Katie Lee has been tearing things up at Penn National and I had to get an interview with this rising star, so here is my chat with Katie.
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
KL: I was born in England and I mostly grew up in Connecticut.
FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up? Were you a tomboy like most other female riders?
KL: I would say yeah, a little bit.
FOTH: DO you have any brothers or sisters?
KL: I have a twin sister and a brother?
FOTH: What do they and your parents think of you being a jockey?
KL: It's scares my mother a little bit. They are supportive of me and like to see me do well and they know I am happy doing what I am doing.
FOTH: When you were a young girl, did you know you wanted to become a jockey?
KL: I always wanted to ride horses as a young girl I rode show horses. I actually didn't get into racing till I was about 18 yrs old. I got a job grooming horses at a race track and then once I got doing that, I really wanted to be a jockey.
FOTH: How long did you live in England for?
KL: 3 years. We traveled a little bit in Europe before we came to Conn. I grew up most of my life there as I was 8 years old when we got there.
FOTH: Before becoming a jockey did you ever go to Suffolk Downs?
KL: No I was at Finger Lakes for a bit. A friend of mine had been working there and she got me a job there and I went up there with her a few times to watch the races.
FOTH: Did it feel natural for you getting up on a horse for the 1st time?
FOTH: Tell us a little bit about the event or events that led to you becoming a jockey?
KL: I went to college, which has a horse program, I did 2 years there and I met a lady there who was teaching one of the classes and she used to work at Finger Lakes Racetrack and I did not have a job for the summer and I really didn't know what I wanted to do and she got me a job at Finger Lakes grooming horses. That is how I get into the race track there and I worked with a trainer there at Finger Lakes, who started helping me out galloping and from then on I worked my way up to being a jockey.
FOTH: Tell us about your 1st race.
KL: It was at Finger Lakes and I rode for a friend of mine, who used to be a jockey, trains horses up there now. He had a horse that he thought would work out well for me. I got on the horse a couple times in the morning. I wasn't nervous about the race till I got on the horse. I knew everybody at Finger Lakes and everyone was really helpful. The horse didn't run any good.
FOTH: Tell us about your 1st win. Was that at Finger Lakes?
KL: Yes it was. It was for trainer Kenny Smith, who used to ride as well. He had a horse, she had won a couple stakes when she was younger, and it was an older horse. The horse went to the lead and she kept going and she won pretty easily actually. I got halfway down the stretch and I thought all the other horses were gonna pass me. (laughs) It was really exciting and Kenny put me up on a horse he knew was gonna win.
FOTH: What was it like jogging the horse back knowing you were headed for the winner's circle?
KL: It was so excited I didn't know what to do with myself. I couldn't even get my goggles back on my helmet. (laughs) It was so excited I was smiling from ear to ear.
FOTH: Did the jockeys get you after the race?
KL: They weren't too nasty to me. They were all lining up with buckets of ice water and shaving cream. (laughing) It was guys I knew really well and it was just really exciting.
FOTH: Did you know that it was coming?
KL: Yeah I had been warned. (we both laugh)
FOTH: How long did you stay at Finger Lakes for?
KL: About 6 months. From May until November of 2004 when the track closed and then I went to Penn National.
FOTH: What made you decide to go to Penn National and not some other track?
KL: It was kinda up in the air where I was gonna go cause I had not done too good at Finger Lakes so I wasn't thinking I would do really well in NY. I talked to a couple guys, who were trainers at Penn National and they told me they really like the "bug" at Penn and I think you would do well there. So I packed my stuff and came here and it has worked out rather well.
FOTH: What are other tracks have you rode at besides Phila Park, Delaware Park, Finger Lakes, and Penn National?
KL: I rode 1 race at Charlestown and 1 race up at Monmouth Park.
FOTH: What was it like riding at Charlestown?
KL: It was very different. The track is a lot smaller and the turns are pretty tight and everybody kinda rides you pretty tight. It was different. It wasn't my favorite place to ride.
FOTH: Do you pretty much get along with all the other riders up at Penn National?
KL: Yeah, mostly. It is tough sometimes as some of the guys don't look highly upon girls riding and you can sense that a little bit.
FOTH: Do you plan on staying up at Penn National after your apprentice is up?
KL: It is up in the air. I am leaning toward staying here, I really like it here. If I can build my business up after my "bug," I'd like to stay.
FOTH: If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to become a jockey, what advice would you give her?
KL: I think in this business you have to work hard and be willing to learn. I think I would tell her if being a jockey is something you really want to do, don't let anyone stop you, just work really hard at it.
FOTH: Take us what you do in a typical day.
KL: I usually get to the track around 6:30 am and I usually get on up 5 or 6 horses. I finish about 10:00 am and I try and come home and take a nap and take care of things around the house and I try and get to the track by like 6:00 pm and I like to watch the replays of the races the night before. I then get a program and study what horses are in the race and look at my horse. I try and rest a little bit and then I go out and ride. I have been riding like 6 horses a night. Lately I have been going to Phila Park and Delaware Park and riding during the day as well.
FOTH: Does that ever take it's toll on you?
KL: I love Delaware Park and Phila Park and it is tiring on you. It makes for a really long day. You only have the bug once and I really want to well with it so I am taking every opportunity I can to ride as much as I can.
FOTH: Is there any other female jockeys or athletes you admire?
KL: Julie Krone I admire as she was one of the most amazing female jockeys. She has accomplished a lot. I don't know a lot of other female riders except for the ones here. Kathy Pelligrino, I believe you have spoken to her, if I have any questions or advice, I would probably ask her. She has been helpful in the past.
FOTH: Is there any tracks you have seen on TV that you would like to ride at one day?
KL: Saratoga. I don't know if I'll ever get that opportunity, but I'd love to go there.
FOTH: Would you ever go back to England to ride there?
KL: I would be, but I am not sure about the racing there. I don't know how willing they are to accept female riders, but I would love to go there and the t urf racing is amazing there.
FOTH: Do you feel you have been treated fairly as a female rider so far?
KL: Yeah, I think so. I think it depends on where you go, but here they have been very accepting of it. There has been a few that think your less strong cause a female and they don't think your as strong as the guys.
FOTH: Is there any hobbies or things you like to do when your away from the track?
KL: I haven't had a lot of free time, but I like skiing and taking my dog running.
FOTH: What do you think of all the seasons we have here on the East Coast?
KL: I love it. I was a little worried how I was gonna fair in the cold weather, but I think we were pretty lucky here.
FOTH: DO you have any goals for yourself?
KL: I'd love to be leading rider here at Penn. I don't know if I can be, but I'm gonna strive for that every day. I'd love to win 100 races with my bug. When I first got her I had never won more than 2 races in a day and then when I did that I wanted to win 3 and then I did that and I wanted to win 4, which I did a few weeks back, that was pretty exiting for me.
FOTH: Was becoming a jockey easier or harder than you thought it was gonna be?
KL: I think it was harder than I thought it would be. I knew a lot of people up at Finger Lakes that said they were gonna help me out and it wasn't as easy for me than I expected as I thought I'd be riding a lot more up there than I did. I didn't do well my first 6 months when I was up there. I didn't do good till I came here and it was very frustrating for me to see all the people that said they were gonna help me out, not help me out. When I got here as things got better it made me feel happy that I worked hard every day.
FOTH: Have you had any injuries and are you afraid of getting hurt?
KL: I try not to think about it and I know it is gonna happen sooner or later with a job like this. So far I have been really lucky I have missed a week as I had horse step on me behind the gate. I didn't break anything, I just hurt my back and hurt my knee a little bit. I broke my nose. (laughs)
FOTH: Do you have any problems with making weight at all?
KL: No, thank god I am very light and short. (laughs)
FOTH: Do you feel with each race your improving as a rider?
KL: I try too. I try to watch the replays after the race and I talk to my agent a lot about trying to improve things. I think I have learned a lot since I have been here especially with riding a lot more horses.
FOTH: Katie I am out of questions. Anything you want to say to wrap this up?
KL: Just thanks for the interview and good luck with the website.