BALTIMORE, 05-14-10– Gwen Jocson won 763 races in a 10-year riding career that ended in 1999, but none of them felt as good as No. 764.
Jocson, 43, took the lead at the top of the stretch aboard Honor in Peace and held off a late rally from Chapel of Love, ridden by former Maryland-based Andrea Seefeldt Knight to win the Lady Legends for the Cure race on Friday at Pimlico Race Course.
The special event marked the first ever pari-mutuel race featuring eight retired female riders, staged in a partnership between Pimlico management and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest breast cancer organization.
A film crew for “JOCK” employed 11 cameras to film the race as the climatic ending of the upcoming feature-length documentary on the first generation of female jockeys, including 60-year-old Barbara Jo Rubin, the first woman to win a pari-mutuel race against males at a major race track.
Co-second choice in the field of eight at odds of 3-to-1, Honor in Peace won the $30,000 allowance for 3-year-olds and up by 2 ¾ lengths, running six furlongs in 1:11.46. It was the fastest six-furlong race of the meet, which opened on April 17.
“This one feels the best,” said Jocson, who began riding in 1989 and won 376 races in 1991 on the Philadelphia Park-Atlantic City circuit. “I thought I was on a rocket. When the gates, opened, all I felt was horse.I’m lucky I didn’t fall off around the eighth pole,” she quipped. “but I just had horse. He broke sharp and it felt so good. It feels so good to have that much power underneath you where you can just move it where you want. It makes you want to come back to riding.”
Trained by Wesley Ward for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Honor in Peace chased pacesetter Mass Destruction before taking over at with an eighth of a mile remaining and drew off under Jocson’s left-handed urging.
“Once the gates break, the only thing on your mind is that horse, what’s in front of you, what’s beside you and the race,” said Jocson, who currently gallops for John Servis, the trainer of 2004 Preakness Stakes winner Smarty Jones. “Everything else goes out the window. I’ve learned that from before. Being off a long time, I didn’t let it bother me.I won my first race and I won my last race. If I hadn’t won this race, I’d have to gone back to riding to get even. It felt great. It felt great for a cause. The people here are wonderful.”
The Legends race was held to help raise awareness and funds to aid breast cancer research. The National Breast Cancer Foundation estimates that over 200,000 women and approximately 1,700 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, with more than 40,000 fatalities annually.
Chapel of Love settled off the rail and began making a run midway around the far turn. Seefeldt Knight, one of only two women to have ridden in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, steered the Chapel Royal colt six wide and got up by a neck over Rasher and Mary Russ Tortora for second.
“We broke great,” Seefeldt Knight, 47, said. “I was hoping to go to the lead, but everyone else was, too, so we saved some ground and came running at the end. We gave the winner 10 pounds, and still didn’t get beat by much. It was really fun.”
Russ Tortora finished third, 1 ¾ lengths ahead of Mass Destruction and jockey Mary Wiley Wagner, a breast cancer survivor, having finished the last of 35 chemotherapy treatments last November.
“It felt really good,” said Russ Tortora, 56, the first woman to win a Grade 1 stakes race. “We were coming off the pace. I thought I was in a good spot. I was staying close, trying to get the leaders. He tried real hard. I just didn’t want to look like a sack of potatoes.
Wiley Wagner, 46, ranked among the top five apprentice riders in the nation in 1983, and is married to Maryland Jockey Club starter Bruce Wagner.
“We were rocking,” she said. “The trainer told me to get the lead and just go, and we did. We just couldn’t keep up down the lane.”
A nine-year breast cancer survivor, Patti “PJ” Cooksey ranks third all-time among female riders with 2,137 wins. She finished a nose behind Mass Destruction in fifth.
“It went wonderful,” she said. “My horse broke well enough. He was up into the race a little bit. Every time I tried to ask him to extend, he just started spinning his wheels. It was a little cuppy for him, a little dry, but he came back well and put forth a good effort. It was a great experience and a really wonderful event for a great cause.”
Barbara Jo Rubin, 60, whose historical victory against males came in 1969, finished sixth on Brogue.
“She was a little tired in the stretch,” she said. “It was an exciting race to ride in. We broke well and stayed in it for a while. She just got tired so I didn’t push her after that. This was really nice of the track management to do this for us and for the cause today.”
Temperance Time, ridden by 57-year-old Jennifer Rowland Small, a pioneering jockey in Maryland in the 1970s, was seventh.
“He broke well, better than I thought he would,” she said. “I went to bring him back and he wanted to stay up there behind the leaders so I had to go a little wide on the turn.”
The field was rounded out by Agave Ridge and jockey Cheryl White, 56, a racing official in California who was the first African-American female rider.
“I feel good,” she said. “I just couldn’t keep up with the others. He broke OK, but he just got outrun.”
Pimlico pledged to raise a minimum of $100,000 for Komen for the Cure. Fifty percent of the funds raised will go to the Komen Maryland affiliate to use for community outreach programs in Maryland, and the remaining 50 percent will be used for life-saving breast cancer research.