Elizabeth Becht is a Philadelphia Park based trainer who I recently found out was a jockey. I got in contact with her and here is what she said.
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
EB: I was born in Sicily Italy in 1950. I came to the US in 1956. I grew up in Florida.
FOTH: What sort of kid were you growing up?
EB: A tom boy. I had just come from Italy and did not know how to speak English. I got put in a catholic school right away. I had are really bizarre type of growing up cause I had come from ethnic to another and had to learn the language and I was only 6 years old.
FOTH: How long were you in Florida?
EB: I lived in Florida from 1956 to 1976.
FOTH: When you were young did you have any thoughts of being a jockey?
EB: When I was young I always liked the horses. My father rode for the King of Italy. He had it in his blood and I certainty have it in mine. It's just a natural instinct I am drawn to the horse.
FOTH: What even or events led to you becoming a jockey?
EB: Now that is interesting because I am probably the oldest girl jockey that ever got a license. I was 26 when I started riding. Got the bug in Florida and I had been married, got divorced and brought a 5 acre farm in Ocala, FL. I was down there for 5 years and got involved with Marehaven Farms breaking their yearlings and that led me to Florida Downs (now Tampa Bay Downs-Chris) and that led to me riding from there.
FOTH: Can you tell us what you remember about your 1st ride?
EB: It was at Florida Downs in 1976. The horse's name was Shucks in Howdy. I had galloped for this man J.D. Price and he had a big outfit down there. I begged him every day to put me on a horse and let me ride. He promised me he would and on the last day of the meet he did. The horse finished 4th, pulled up bad, but I was very pleased with my performance. The jockeys showed me how to put on my equipment. During the post parade I was very nervous.
FOTH: Was tough was it for you as a female jockey back then?
EB: It was. It came mostly from the jockeys, owners and trainers. The public accepted female jockeys. I survived. If you want to do something bad enough and love it enough, you do it.
FOTH: Tell us what you remember about your 1st win. Did you get creamed with stuff after the race?
EB: Yes that is a regular thing. They all join in and do things to ya. There is no way to avoid it. Oil, shoe polish, water shaving cream. Everybody has something in their hand and after you come back after your 1st win, you get it. My 1st win was at Pocono Downs. I rode one race at Florida Downs, then I was at Calder and Gulfstream for maybe 3-4 months. It was very difficult. Then some people suggested this little 5/8th's track of a mile track called Pocono Downs where maybe you work hard, you can ride. Raymond Valenger, an ex jockey he was a mentor. He taught me a lot. He took me up to Pocono on September 7, 1977 and I won by a hair. The horse I was riding wasn't doing well, but he won that day.
FOTH: How long did you ride for and what were some of the tracks you rode at?
EB: I rode at Philadelphia Park, Gulfstream, Calder, Pocono Downs, Atlantic City, Delaware, and Garden State Park. I have lived in this area since 1976. I rode from 1976 till 1985 regularly. After that I cut back and became trainer/owner. In the state of PA you cannot be a jockey/owner/trainer. My goal is to ride, train and own my own horses which is what I want to do.
FOTH: Did you get along with most of the male jockeys and any funny stories to tell?
EB: There are lots of funny stories Chris. Something that stuck out in my mind was in a very early race in my career where I was sitting on a fairly good horse and I came out of the gate and I was in front by like 1/2 a length and I'm going into the turn and all the sudden I feel this drag like if you had your emergency brake on as you were driving. I think to myself that's strange. I look down I notice the jockey next to me is holding my saddle towel and a horse usually only has one foot on the ground most of the time so the horse can be propelled by the slightest little motion and I looked at him and he looked at me and smiled and churped his horse and left me standing still. Another time coming out of the gate I was on a speed horse and both horses along side of me slammed me and closed me out of there and I lost both my stir-ups. The rider on the right side of me realized I was in trouble right off the bat as I'm trying to put one foot back in, he reaches over and grabs hold of my silk. And this is while we were riding! He held my silk long enough for me to put my foot in my stirrup and get me back in stride and then he winked at me and off he went!
FOTH: Were you taught a lot as far as riding goes or did you have to learn a lot on your own?
EB: I had a natural ability to ride horses. The minute I step up on a horse we talk to each other. If we are not on the same page then I become a teacher and he becomes a student. In doing that I have come a long way with them as far as not getting hurt. I have had little injuries, but no major broken bones. I'm still out there riding every day.
FOTH: What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome being a female jockey?
EB: Well the fact that I was 26 when I applied for my license. The female obstacle too, as long as men are men and woman you’re going to find that in every walk of life. That goes anywhere.
FOTH: What led to you retired as a jockey?
EB: Well here in Pennsylvania you cannot own, train horses and also be a jockey. And since this is where I live, that is why I basically gave up professional riding.
FOTH: You are now a trainer/owner. Is that something you just kinda progressed into?
EB: It was something that was in me from day #1. I do everything with my horses. It was a natural progression.
FOTH: Do you use female riders?
EB: I have used several female riders. Janice Blake won several races for me last year. I am, and your hearing it from me, I am as good as 98% of the riders out there and I'm 52 years old and I can still get it on if you want too. I can't right now due to the rules.
FOTH: What advice would you give someone who wants to become a jockey?
EB: Absolutely go for it. If you have a feel for the horse, go for it. Nothing better. If you don't have the heart, then don't bother.
FOTH: Thanks for the interview. Any last words?
EB: I love this business and I love the whole scene. Chris thanks for the interview and good luck with the website.
Back to our main page