Jo Black is a female rider out at Turf Paradise who I found about while doing some web surfing. I emailed her about and interview and she agreed so I emailed her some questions over and here is what she said.
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
JB: I was born in Chelmsford, Essex, and grew up in Kelvedon Hatch, Essex.
FOTH: Any brothers or sisters? Were you close with your parents?
JB: I have 2 older brothers who have absolutely no interest in horses! My parents celebrate their 40th Anniversary this month and are currently over here with me right now.
FOTH: I read where you grew up in England. Did you go to racing school like Tara Hemmings did?
JB: No I did not go to racing school, I actually applied when I was 14 years old and was offered a place when I turned 16, but I never went as I was working in a jumping yard. I had decided that was what I wanted to do at that time as there was more realistic opportunities for a girl than in the racing business.
FOTH: What sort of kid were you growing up? Did you have many close friends and do you miss England a lot these days?
JB: I was definitely a brat or so my Mum tells me! No really I was kind of a loner as I spent all my time at the local stables. I was of the opinion that horses deserved more of my time than any of my friends! I do not really miss England as I love it here. I still like to visit, but it is home here now.
FOTH: What made you move to the US? How hard was it to adjust here?
JB: I actually just took a months vacation and never went home! It was very easy to adjust to a place where I could actually make money working with horses!
FOTH: Did you ride any horse races while in England?
JB: I never rode any race horses in England.
FOTH: Tell us what you remember about your first race.
JB: My first race was on a small 1/2 mile track in Douglas, Arizona and I just wanted to win! I was more excited than nervous. The horses name was Proper Dandy and he ran 3rd and I only think he did that because he was so scared of me jumping up and down on him!
FOTH: Tell us about your first win.
JB: My first win was at Prescott Downs, Arizona (the site of Pat Day's first win) and they hosed me down and threw eggs and flour at me! The horse just went to the front and never looked back, and I remember thinking 'wow that was easy'!
FOTH: I read where you kept your apprentice tag for over 3 years due to various injuries. What sort of injuries did you get and did at any point did you want to quit riding?
JB: Do you have an hour?!! I had my license for a month, and then I broke my back on a young colt. I had just come back a month later when I had a car wreck and hurt my neck and shoulder. At this time I had only ridden about 15 races and had only won one so I had not officially started my 'bug' yet. I then won 5 out of my next 20 races, and therefore starting my bug. I was riding at a small track where they only raced on weekends, and rode there for 3 months during which I broke my nose but did not take any time off! I then got a call from an agent in West Virginia, so off I went. I rode for 9 weeks and was up to second leading rider when I had my worst spill. I shattered my shoulder, (it was in about 10 pieces) my nose again and did serious nerve damage to my right arm. It took me 15 months to get back to racing, (but considering they said I had almost no chance of regaining the function in my right arm I think that it was a miracle!) So back to riding again, I had 4 months left on my bug, which is really tough, as it takes almost a month to get rolling again. Then I was just at the end of my bug when I went down again, this time taking 4 months for two torn ligaments in my knee. When I came back I was a journeyman. Despite all the injuries I just kept coming back and plugging along. The only times I thought about quitting is when I didn't win a race for a week and because I am so competitive I would get mad and sulk - now I am more in tune to the absolute highs and lows of this business, and when it is a little tough you just have to ride through it and wait for the highs to ebb around again.
FOTH: What tracks have you ridden at so far and is there any tracks you want to ride at one day?
JB: I have been lucky (or unlucky!) to ride a variety of racetracks from 1/2 mile 8 horse wide bullrings to the bigger more recognized tracks. I am hoping to stay healthy this summer and ride in California when I get back. I would love to ride at Dubai one day.
FOTH: I also read you want to go back to ride in the UK one day. Do you think that will happen and how would you adjust to the riding over there?
JB: Yes, I would like to ride a few races just for the experience (and maybe be lucky enough to show that women can be competitive on the racetrack.) I also love to ride on grass, as it takes more patience, and that is one of my specialties!
FOTH: What is the difference in riding over in England and over here?
JB: The longer unlevel tracks are a lot different to the level dirt tracks here. It is more a matter of getting your horse to relax and then being able to pick them up and drive to the finish.
FOTH: You have won 8 stake races in your career. Which of the 8 was the best one in your eyes and why?
JB: My best stakes win was the $50,000 Minnesota Oaks last year, and I had done all the work on the filly from the start so it was very rewarding.
FOTH: Do you have a favorite horse or track you like to ride at?
JB: I don't really have a favorite horse, I like to ride the ones that try for you every time. Likewise I have yet to find a favorite track to ride at as I have not yet established myself anywhere yet. But my favorite so far has been Del Mar. I rode one horse there at 85-1 and beat 3 horses and never enjoyed myself so much!!
FOTH: Have you found being a female jockey is tougher than male jockeys? Are female riders accepted at tracks like Turf Paradise?
JB: I think that this business is tough for all jockeys, and if you ride as hard as you can you get the same opportunities as the guys. Some trainers are anti-girl, but I look at it as their loss! I have been at tracks where I have been the only girl and have still done well. I think the only thing is when you make a mistake everyone sees it as there are fewer of us, but we have to ride through that and be tough and make pathways for future female jockeys.
FOTH: Take us through a typical day for you.
JB: When riding I get up at 4:30am to be at the track at 5am.I then typically work about 6 or 7 horses. I will then go back to the hotel or apartment for an hour or two before heading to the jocks room at 12pm.I will then ride up to 9 races, and then grab a bite to eat before going to bed early to be up at dawn again.
FOTH: What advice would you give somebody who wanted to become a jockey?
JB: If you want to be a jockey I think that it is important to be a horsewoman so learning from the ground up is the best foundation there is. A lot of people want to get right to the riding and don't learn how to handle horses and I think that that is a mistake. The better you understand a horse the more likely they are to run for you.
FOTH: What are some things you like to do when you are away from the track?
JB: On my off days I like to golf a little. I draw when I have time, and spend a lot of time at the gym. I am also a big baseball fan and go to as many games as possible.
FOTH: Any other female riders you like or respect?
JB: You have to respect any female rider who has been riding a long time as they maybe did not have the opportunities that we have now and paved the way for the rest of us to be able to ride more now.
FOTH: How long do you think you will keep riding for?
JB: I will keep riding as long as I am physically able and as long as I still desire to do it.
FOTH: Any last words? Thanks for the interview Jo!
JB: Fight all the way to the wire!
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