Debra Kriftcher

Debra Kriftcher is a vet now, but was a jockey for a years mostly riding at Penn National. I got a chance to talk to Debra about her time as a jockey and here is what was said:

FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

DK: I was born Beth Page, NY, that is in Long Island and that is also where I grew up.

FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up?

DK: When I was young my favorite thing to do was read. Just get lost in books. I also loved animals. Also rescuing stray kittens and wanting to bring puppies home.

FOTH: When you were young did you know you wanted to be a jockey?

DK: I thought about it a little, but I didn't even think about being one until after I graduated college, but one day I was looking through my old papers and relics and stuff and I found a little diary I had when I was maybe 10 or 11 years old and in it I wrote "I want to be a jockey". 

FOTH: Did you parents ever get to see you ride and what did they think of you being a jockey?

DK: Yes they did get to see me ride and I think my dad still has my first win picture up on his desk. I didn't start riding in races till after I graduated college. There was always that 'well what are you going to do with your college education now that your going to be a jockey" Being a jockey is what I loved and I had a great passion for it. I rode a lot at Penn National and one weekend they came to see me ride and I won 2 races and they got in the winner's circle so that was fun.

FOTH: What event or events led to you becoming a jockey?

DK: I was walking horses up at Belmont Park and I wanted to start exercising horses and nobody would give me a chance. So I met someone who introduced me to a trainer Tommy Root and he took a great interest in me and he said he would train me to become a jockey. 2 weeks later I went down to his farm down on Ocala, FL to break horses. 

FOTH: What stuff were you taught as far as being a jockey goes?

DK: I was taught about position and Mr. Root had me doing daily exercises every day, showed me how to hold the whip and I had  to practice every day on a bale of hay and how to switch my whip and stay low and down in my position and I did that like for like an hour. I also learned to get fit and strong before I ever rode a race. 

FOTH: Tell us what you can remember about your first race?

DK: It was Charlestown, WV. I can't remember the horse's name, but we finished 5th. It was pouring rain and it was muddy.  We broke great from the gate. I blew the first turn. Coming around the backside it seemed like a blur, everybody started hitting their horses and I got mud all on my goggles and I pulled them down and on my next pair of goggles I got even more mud and I spent the rest of the race trying to see. (laughs) We finished 5th and the trainer thought we should have won.

FOTH: Tell us what you can remember about your first win.

DK: That was also at Charlestown, WV. The horse's name was King's Hat. We were 44-1. He broke good, we were laying in the middle of the back down the backside and he just moved and starting running and I said to myself 'oh my god we are going to win" and she won by 2 or 3 lengths. It was on Halloween and it was the "Happy Halloween" purse. It was so exciting.

FOTH: Did you get creamed with stuff after the race?

DK: Oh yeah. I knew that, that happened to riders, but in the excitement of the moment I forgot that it was going to happen to me. After the race walking back toward the cock's room I never made it without buckets of water being thrown on me. In the jock's room I had buckets of shaving cream. At least I didn't get shoe polish on my face (laughs)

FOTH: How long did you ride for?

DK; About 2 1/2 years.

FOTH; What led you to retire?

DK: I loved riding races, it was the best thing I had ever done in my life, except for having a baby. After awhile, and I am a very independent person and I started getting frustrated that other people are in control of your destiny more or less. I had a lot of promises that I would get to ride this or horse or that horse and maybe get to ride it once. It got to be very frustrating and I am very sensitive and it started to bother me and I just felt like I wasn't in control of what I wanted anymore. I always wanted to go to vet school, also, so one day I just said it was time to stop. 

FOTH: What tracks did you ride at?

DK: I started at Charlestown, rode there like 6 months and then moved my tack to Penn National. I also rode in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey. I mostly rode at Penn National.

FOTH: What was your proudest moment or favorite day as a jockey?

DK: One was on a horse named "What He Does" a horse I rode in Maryland. It was very exciting for me cause I wanted to ride in Maryland and found it very difficult to get started there. I had worked for a trainer named Barkley Tagg who was completely wonderful to me, but could never believe I could be a jockey. The horse was 99-1 and when I won on the horse I wan an apprentice, but I rode in journeyman weight as I filled in for another rider. We were last at the 1/4 pole and we won by a nose. It was the most exciting race.

FOTH: Was it tough back then trying to earn the respect of male trainers and jockeys back then?

DK: I never felt that. I think there had been enough woman that had rode before me that had paved the way. The tracks that I rode at were already giving girls a chance. So I think as long as you showed enthusiasm and honesty, those were like the keys. 

FOTH: If a young girl came up to you and wanted to be a jockey what advice would you give her?

DK: If this is your passion I would say go for it. It can be one of the most exciting things in your life, but prepared for some disappointments ahead. I mean it is more glory looking at, but it is a lot of hard work being in it. But if you love doing, you'll get so much out of it. So keep your feet on the ground, but go for it.

FOTH; Did you get any injuries at all while you were riding?

DK: The worst injury I ever had was actually on a farm in Florida before I actually rode in a race. I was breaking a baby and I broke my femur. I had a steel rode in my thigh and I had complications from it. I was lucky I never had any actual injuries while racing. One time I was on the way to the gate and the horse reared back and my reign broke and the horse flipped over in the air and I fell in the mud. I didn't get hurt. One time as I was coming out of the gate me and another rider clipped heels and I went down. I was sore, but didn't get hurt.

FOTH: I know your still involved in horse racing as a vet now. How did this come about?

DK: I just decided to go to vet's school. I was still galloping horses and riding a bit while preparing to go to vet's school, but once I  got accepted to go to vet's school I pretty much stopped riding. I might have rode one or two races after I started vet's school to finish out my career. I still galloped on the weekends. Once while I was a vet down at Atlantic City, I worked a horse out. The horse was a tough horse so he had to be ponied down to the pole and picked up. The moment working a horse again was fun..

FOTH: For those who don't know what are your duties as a vet?

DK: Well there is a horse farm vet and a race track yet and I do a combo both. When you do farm work it is more preventive health. You have to schedule exams and then if a horse is injured you have to do wounds. A racetrack vet, most horses are sore and you have to patch them up and keep them up on their athletic performance.

FOTH: Debra thanks for the interesting interview. Anything you want to say to wrap this up? 

DK: It was a nice trip down memory lane for me. I met a lot of wonderful people in racing. It is getting more family oriented and I am glad to be part of it. Good luck with your website as well.

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