Maryland’s own Jennifer Rowland Small takes race for the cure
BALTIMORE, 05-18-12--- Jennifer Rowland Small won 192 races as the top pioneering female rider in Maryland during the 1970s, but the biggest win on her hometown track came Friday afternoon.
The 59-year-old Small took Class Rules gate to wire to win the $45,000 Lady Legends for the Cure III race by 2 ¼ lengths at Pimlico Race Course.
Trained by Maryland-based Vernon Allinson, Class Rules ran the six-furlong allowance for 3-year-olds and up in 1:12.50 on a fast main track. Bellagio, the 6-to-5 post-time favorite, finished second.
This marked the third consecutive year that eight retired female jockeys competed in the pari-mutuel race, staged in a partnership between Pimlico management and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest breast cancer organization.
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.
Small was one of six Lady Legends participants to have taken part in all three races.
“Certainly, this means a lot,” Small said. “I think this is a wonderful opportunity, not only for Maryland racing but for women and certainly for the Susan G. Komen. It brings out the people, and the donation is specifically targeted for breast cancer research. I think we’ve all been touched by some sort of cancer, in all of our lives. I’ve lost dear friends. That’s why I do it. That’s why we all do it.”
Pimlico made a donation of $21,496 to the Komen Maryland affiliate, equal to the amount wagered to win on Class Rules. Second choice in the field at odds of 3-to-1, the 6-year-old Peace Rules gelding paid $8.80 to win on a $2 bet.
Sixth in last year’s Lady Legends race, Small won 192 races and $696,965 in purses from 1971 to 1977, following in the footsteps of Kathy Kushner, who in 1969 won the legal right for women to ride in pari-mutuel races, and Barbara Jo Rubin, who later that year became the first woman to win a pari-mutuel race in the United States.
“I was in high school when Kathy Kushner was licensed,” Small said. “She was a show rider and she broke her leg in a jumping accident, and then Barbara Jo was able to get her license and won at Charles Town. A year later, Barbara Jo had to stop riding because of injuries, so there wasn’t much progress in the way of women riding.
“I started riding in 1971 as a way of paying my tuition at the Maryland Institute College of Art. I got up at 3, came here and got on horses, and then had to be at my first class at 9:30. I think this race was good because we’ve all had help in our lives, and I think it’s a good way to pay back the community.”
The win was the second in six starts this year for Class Rules, the other going 5 ½ furlongs at Laurel Park on March 17 in his 2012 debut. He had been ridden by Erick Rodriguez in each of his last three races.
“My wife has battled cancer. She’s had melanomas twice, so I felt like I wanted to run in it if for no other reason than because it was for the cure,” Allinson said. “I told Jennifer, just take a light hold of him and pray for the best, and hopefully nobody comes and gets you.”
Class Rules was never threatened after leading through splits of :23.79, :47.11 and :59.37.
“I went to see him on Thursday, and he said, ‘I love you,’ and I said, ‘I love you, too,’” Small said. “I reminded him of that when we went to the gate. He’s a lovely horse. He’s very quick out of the gate, and he just went about his business. He didn’t want to pull up.”
Mary Russ Tortora, the first female rider to win a Grade 1 race in the 1982 Widener Handicap, finished second on Bellagio.
“My horse is a sweetheart,” she said. “He was really nice to ride. I expected [Class Action] to come back, but he didn't. My horse ran beautiful. The winner kind of snuck away early. It's wonderful to be out there. I want to ride him back. I want to ride the next race. I exercise horses, so that kind of keeps me in striking distance.”
Mary Wagner Wiley, a breast cancer survivor and the wife of Maryland Jockey Club starter Bruce Wagner, was the defending Lady Legends champion, winning last year’s race with Mass Destruction. She ran third on Friday with Fleeter.
“It felt great,” she said. “The horse ran great, and you can’t ask for any more than that. It takes a lot of work, and people take for granted how fit jockeys are or aren’t.”
Officious, ridden by Lady Legends newcomer Jill Jellison, a winner of 1,853 races between 1982 and 2010, finished fourth.
“It was exciting to ride against these women riders that rode for years,” Jellison said. “Getting the chance to ride with them, I have a lot of respect for them. I was hoping to be first or second but the race didn’t come up the way I thought it would. I thought the five horse would stop but he didn’t.”
Fifth in the race was Muscadine, ridden by Patty “PJ” Cooksey, one of only two women to ride in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and a breast cancer survivor.
“I had a great trip, but the speed did not come back,” she said. “He ran some through the lane when I hit him left-handed and he passed a few of them. I am more winded from trying to pull him up than from the race.”
Another Lady Legends newcomer, Zoe Cadman, who won 311 races from 2000-04 and now works as an analyst for HRTV, was sixth aboard Salt and Light.
“He started a little slow, and it seemed everybody was sending from the gate and I’m not in that good of shape,” she said. “It was a lot of fun. Next year, make it one mile on the turf.”
Cheryl White, the first African-American female rider, and The Devil You Say crossed the wire in seventh.
“We got a little dirty out there,” she said. “He ran really good. We were laying fourth. He just flattened out. This is a most wonderful event, and I look forward to it each time.”
Rounding out the field was Bandidos Yanquis and the 62-year-old Rubin, whose victory aboard Cohesion at Charles Town on Feb. 22, 1969 was the first for a female against males in a pari-mutuel race at a recognized track.
“He ran good,” she said. “He came out a bit slow and started going good down the backside. He just didn't have enough.”