News / USA

Women Jockeys Keep Up with the Men

Apprentice jockey Sarah Rook
Apprentice jockey Sarah Rook

The premier horse race in the United States takes place Saturday in the southern U.S. state of Kentucky.  This year, there will be a woman jockey in the Kentucky Derby. She's only the sixth woman to ride in the annual race since it began in 1875.  Other women jockeys are hoping they will eventually make it to the Kentucky Derby. At the Pimlico racetrack in the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore, Maryland, women jockeys are showing they can win races in a male dominated sport.

It was the first of ten races at Pimlico Race Course recently, and 22 year-old Stephanie Korger and her horse took the lead early on, crossing the finish line first.

"She actually worked really good today. She did everything that I asked her to and very cooperative for the win," Korger said of the horse she rode.  

Korger's horse was trained by Dane Kobiskie. "Stephanie, as a rider, to me is just a very smooth rider," Kobiske said.

Korger says there’s nothing she’d rather do than be a jockey. "It is an absolute exhilarating rush.  I mean there’s no feeling like it.  When those gates open, I mean there’s nothing else in the world that you can compare with," she said.

She's the top apprentice rider at Pimlico, where the prestigious Preakness race is held two weeks after the Kentucky Derby.  When her year- long apprenticeship is finished, she will become a professional rider or journeyman.

A man named Walt comes regularly to the track to bet on the horses. He says the women jockeys keep up with the men.  "Women riders have a different touch, generally, than male riders, in my opinion in that they tend to be more patient," Walt said.

Sarah Rook is also an apprentice rider and competed in her first professional race today.   She saw an opening between two horses and slipped through to cross the finish line first.

"She just went right through and kept going.  She was perfect," Rook said of her horse.  

Korger says getting to the top isn’t easy. "There’s some trainers who won’t ride you specifically because you’re a girl, and the only thing you can really do is go out there and be determined and beat them in a race and prove to them that you’re just as good as any other guy out there," she said.

Jonathan Joyce has been a jockey for six years. He says the women have more to prove. "I think they just have to overcome a lot as far as trainers and competitiveness between the guys and trying to be accepted in a game that has been so much known as a man’s sport for so long," he said.

Korger says, like the men,  the women have to work their way up. "We race four days a week, Thursday through Sunday, and we get on the horses in the morning and we work them, make sure they’re fit and exercised.  We do that for free, and in exchange, we get to ride the horses in a race," she said.

Last July, Korger broke her shoulder when she fell off her horse after it stumbled during a race. "It’s a very physically demanding job.  Jockeys are some of the most fit athletes in the world and at the same time it’s a very dangerous sport," she said.

Twenty-six-year-old jockey Forest Boyce was one of the top apprentice riders in the United States last year.  Now a journeyman, she says winning is hit and miss. "Most of the time, when they’re supposed to win they don’t, and when they aren’t, they do," she said.

Gina Clay, a horseracing fan is impressed with Boyce. "I watched her race and I saw her and she kind of hung in there with all the big boys, you know, and I thought it was great," she said.

The only woman in this year’s Kentucky Derby is Rosie Napravnik, who began her career in Maryland in 2005.  Korger says Napravnik is a role model. "It’s really exciting.  It’s definitely going to open up a lot of doors for female riders, I think."

Like other women jockeys, Korger wants to be in the big races, including the Kentucky Derby.

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