Breast cancer survivor takes race for the cause
BALTIMORE, 05-20-11 --- Eighteen months after finishing her final chemotherapy treatment, Mary Wiley-Wagner had another reason to celebrate.
With Wiley-Wagner in the irons, Mass Destruction came roaring down the stretch ahead of the field and hit the wire 6 ½ lengths in front to win the $31,000 Lady Legends for the Cure Race II on Friday at Pimlico Race Course.
Bred in Maryland and trained by Donald Barr, Mass Destruction ran six furlongs in 1:12.44 on a main track listed as fast in the optional claiming allowance for 3-year-olds and up.
Favored pacesetter Stone in Love with Legends newcomer Abby Fuller up held on for second, a length ahead of Alicantino and Andrea Seefeldt-Knight in third.
“How did it look? Did it look like I was having fun?” Wiley-Wagner said. “Oh, my gosh. This is my passion, and to be able to come back and do it after cancer, damn, it doesn’t get any better.”
This marked the second straight year that eight retired female jockeys competed in a pari-mutuel race, staged in a partnership between Pimlico management and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest breast cancer organization.
Pimlico made a donation of $33,108.82 to the Komen Maryland affiliate, equal to the amount wagered to win on Mass Destruction. Second choice in the field at odds of 5-to-2, the 4-year-old Great Notion gelding paid $7.40 to win on a $2 bet.
Seventy-five percent of the funds raised on Friday will go to the affiliate to use for community outreach programs in Maryland. The remaining 25 percent will go toward breast cancer research.
Seven of the Lady Legends returned for the second edition of the race, minus defending champion Gwen Jocson, who was injured and could not compete. Wiley-Wagner, the wife of Maryland Jockey Club starter Bruce Wagner, was fourth on Mass Destruction in last year’s race.
“Bruce sent me a text saying, ‘Keep your (butt) down and ride through the wire.’ And I did,” she said. “I couldn’t be more honored. I absolutely couldn’t be more honored to be here.”
One of the top apprentice jockeys in the country in 1983, Wiley-Wagner made a brief return to competitive riding after last year’s race, winning one of 17 starts at tracks in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. Her victory came on Nov. 24, 2010 at Laurel Park, exactly 367 days after her last session of chemotherapy.
“They didn’t let me win this race last year, and I needed that win,” she said. “Not to prove anything to anybody else, just to prove to myself that I could do that. I did, I retired again, and here I am. But, no, I’m not planning another comeback.”
Mass Destruction sat just off a pace of :23.77, :47.54 and :59.86 set by Stone in Love, taking the lead at the top of the stretch and drawing off for his second win in eight lifetime starts. It was the 277th career win for Wiley-Wagner, who rode between 1983 and 1997.
“She rode him perfectly,” Barr said. “She got him away good and let him run down the lane. He’s eaten Maryland grass his whole life, and I think he’s a pretty nice horse. I thought it was very well done last year, and it went off well again. I think everyone should be happy. These girls worked awful hard for a long time to ride in this race. People don’t realize how tiring it is. I give them a lot of credit. They did a helluva job.”
Fuller, who was an alternate for last year’s Lady Legends race, was the first female jockey to win the New York filly Triple Crown with Hall of Famer Mom’s Command in 1985, a horse bred and owned by her father, Peter Fuller.
“It’s over so fast,” she said. “I didn’t so much want the lead. I just thought the horse would be there. He switched leads a couple times for me. They didn’t really go that fast. It was cool. I’d probably do it again.”
Seefeldt-Knight, one of two women to ride in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, finished second last year. Breaking on the outside, Alicantino raced near the back of the pack before staging a late rally.
“He broke perfect,” she said. “He got bumped a bit and couldn’t go with the leaders. He didn’t like the dirt in his face. I swung outside of horses off the turn and we were really moving that last quarter to get third.”
Rock n’ Bid, ridden by Patti “PJ” Cooksey, finished fourth. A 10-year breast cancer survivor, Cooksey was the first woman to ride in the Preakness, and ranks third all-time among female riders with 2,137 career victories.
“It was much better this time, I’m not as tired or sucking as much air as last year,” she said. “He might have got bumped along the turn, and that might have taken a little bit out of him. He gave it his best shot. It was so much fun.”
Finishing fifth was Anjunothat and Barbara Jo Rubin, 60, the first female to win a pari-mutuel race in the United States in 1969.
“We broke very well,” she said. “I expected my horse to run in the back of the field until near the end of the race but, when it was time for him to run, he was a little tired. We stayed out of trouble today, but he just didn’t have anything left.”
Jennifer Rowland Small, the top pioneer female rider in Maryland in the 1970’s, was sixth with Nightscape.
“I had a great trip,” she said. “He broke really well. He broke sharply. I don’t know that the track was maybe a little too much for him, but he tried really hard and he went everywhere I asked him to run.
“It was fantastic. I love to ride. It was a lot of fun being out there with my friends and reconnecting. Also, from the heart, I hope what we do gives someone facing breast cancer some hope and courage and strength. That’s why we do it.”
Cheryl White, the first African-American female rider, checked in seventh with Ladino’s C E O, making his first start since May 2, 2010.
“He just wasn’t up to it today,” she said. “The year off made a much bigger difference in how ran today than how we expected him to run.”
Rounding out the field was Call Me Dude, ridden by Mary Russ-Tortora, the first female to win a Grade 1 stakes race.
“I loved the horse. He felt great the whole way,” she said. “He just needed some more ground and maybe he would come running in the end. I really liked him. I think I’m a little more out of breath, but I felt great.”