Russ-Tortora, Haywired lead gate to wire to win race for the cure
BALTIMORE, 05-17-13---Nineteen years after her last victory and more than three decades after being the first female to capture a Grade 1 race, Mary Russ-Tortora was back in the winner’s circle on Friday afternoon.
With the 59-year-old Russ-Tortora at the controls, Haywired overcame an awkward start and held off a pair of late closers to win the $52,000 Lady Legends for the Cure IV presented by Wells Fargo at Pimlico Race Course.
Trained by Frannie Campitelli for owner John Davison, Haywired led from start to finish in the six-furlong allowance for 3-year-olds and up, hitting the wire in 1:13.08 on a fast main track.
This marked the fourth consecutive year that eight retired female jockeys competed in the pari-mutuel race, held in conjunction with The People’s Pink Party, a partnership between Pimlico management and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest breast cancer organization.
Pimlico made a donation of $27,507 to the Komen Maryland affiliate, equal to the amount wagered to win on Haywired. Favored at 2-1, the 3-year-old Cindago gelding paid $6.20 to win on a $2 bet.
Second in last year’s race, Russ-Tortora is one of five original Lady Legends participants, along with Jennifer Rowland-Small, Barbara Jo Rubin, Patti ‘PJ’ Cooksey and Cheryl White.
“In the gate, my heart was pounding a little bit harder,” Russ-Tortora said. “I was just watching that crack, waiting for it to open, and it wasn’t opening fast enough. After we came out, it was like old stuff.”
Third in the inaugural event in 2010, Russ-Tortora won 520 races and nearly $6 million in purse earnings in her riding career, which lasted from 1980-94. She made history on Feb. 27, 1982, winning the Widener Handicap aboard Lord Darnley at Hialeah, becoming the first woman to capture a Grade 1 race.
Russ-Tortora set career highs with 118 wins in 1981 and $1,408,493 in purses in 1993.
“I still ride horses regularly, but that’s not the same as breezing and galloping,” she said. “He stumbled leaving there, but he seemed to catch on to the lead pretty easy. I just nursed it along and tried to keep the creepy feeling of everybody looking over my shoulder away.”
It was the third win in five career starts for the front-running Haywired, and second in three tries since being claimed by Campitelli. He was fifth last time out over the Pimlico turf on April 25.
The trainer had high praise for the ride from his veteran jockey, who took Haywired through fractions of :23.56, :47.04 and :59.74 and had a two-length lead at the top of the stretch.
“Considering we had a speed horse, and he went to his knees leaving the gate, it was like, ‘Wow, we’re in trouble,’” he said. “But, she got him up and got him on the lead, put everybody to sleep and let him run away from them. When they came to her, she had something left. She did a great job.
“It was great. It’s great for the cause, great for the track, great for everybody. The fans love it. I think they deserve a lot of credit.”
Eighth in 2011, Russ-Tortora said she would be back to defend her title next spring, in an event designed to help raise money and awareness in the fight against breast cancer.
“It means a lot to me,” she said. “I have good friends that have battled cancer and survived it. My own sister died of breast cancer. To have the technology that God has given them now is just wonderful. I’m so thankful for it.”
Grain, ridden by 48-year-old newcomer Stacie Clark-Rogers, a Sovereign Award nominee for top apprentice in 1994, was second.
“Everything went perfect today,” she said. “This race was great fun for all of us. I was on a very nice horse, but I couldn’t get to Mary. (Trainer) Katy (Voss) did a great job training this horse. I got on a few for her in the morning to tune up for today.”
Cooksey, 55, herself a breast cancer survivor and one of two females to ride in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, was third on Outbacker.
“She ran a winning race,” Cooksey said. “She probably would have been better on the outside. But even after all the years, I can’t bring myself to circle the field, so when Abby (Fuller on Start the Party) swung wide at the head of the stretch, I just started picking my way through. I was real happy with the race. It gets a little tougher each year but it is for such a great cause.”
Show Ya Luv, ridden by Zoe Cadman, 38, a winner of 311 races from 2000-04 and now an analyst for HRTV, was fourth.
“It was good until the end where I got bumped pretty hard,” she said. “It was right before the wire. But, hey, that’s racing.”
Abby Fuller, 54, the first female to sweep New York’s Triple Tiara for fillies with Mom’s Command in 1985, was fifth aboard Start the Party.
“It was great, just so much fun,” she said. “I raced about a year ago at Calder, so it's been a while. He was wide coming out of the turn, but the trainer told me to ease him back and push him out to the outside and make a run. I thought I had it for a while, but the speed held up. He ran a good race.”
The defending Lady Legends champion and the pioneering female rider in Maryland in the 1970s, Rowland-Small, 60, was sixth with Santorini Sun.
“This was a fantastic day,” she said. “The race went great and my horse did not have any problems at all. It was a good, clean race and a wonderful day.”
Barbara Jo Rubin, 64, the first woman to win a pari-mutuel race against males at a recognized track in 1969, was seventh aboard Keep Momma Happy.
“He ran great,” she said. “He just didn't have the speed of the other horses, so he got a lot of dirt in his face. After that, he was like 'that's it' and he was pretty much done at that point. It was great fun.”
Cheryl White, 59, the first female African-American rider, finished eighth with Wildhaassseee. She was originally named on Dance With Bull, who was scratched.
The inaugural Lady Legends event in 2010, won by Gwen Jocson, was the first pari-mutuel race of its kind, was profiled on NBC and filmed as the climatic ending to the feature-length documentary, ‘JOCK,’ chronicling the story of the first generation of female riders.
Mary Wiley-Wagner, the wife of Maryland Jockey Club starter Bruce Wagner, won the race in 2011.
About Pimlico Race Course
Historic Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness® Stakes, the middle jewel in horse racing's famed Triple Crown, first opened its doors on October 25, 1870, and is the second oldest racetrack in the United States. Pimlico has played host to racing icons and Baltimoreans have seen the likes of legendary horses such as Man o’ War, Seabiscuit, Secretariat, Affirmed and Cigar thunder down the stretch in thrilling and memorable competition. For more information on Pimlico, visit www.pimlico.com.
Pimlico Race Course is a Stronach Group company, North America’s leading Thoroughbred racetrack owner/operator. The Stronach Group racetracks include Santa Anita Park, Gulfstream Park & Casino, Golden Gate Fields, Portland Meadows, Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, home of the world-famous Preakness. The company owns and operates the Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida and is one of North America's top race horse breeders through its award-winning Adena Springs operation. The Stronach Group is one of the world's largest suppliers of pari-mutuel wagering systems, technologies and services. Its companies include AmTote, a global leader in wagering technology; Xpressbet, an Internet and telephone account wagering service; and Monarch Content Management, which acts as a simulcast purchase and sales agent of horseracing content for numerous North American racetracks and wagering outlets. The Stronach Group is also a major producer of televised horse racing programming through its HRTV cable and satellite network and is North America's premier supplier of virtual online horse racing games, as well as a leading producer of social media content for the horseracing industry.