Kelly Mackay is a jockey who has been riding up in Canada (mostly Woodbine) for over a dozen years. I recently got her on the phone and this is what was said:
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
KM: I was born in Halifax, Canada and I grew up in Nova Scotia.
FOTH: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
KM: I have one sister. Both my parents are both deceased.
FOTH: What does your sister think of you being a jockey?
KM: She is proud of me but she gets concerned because she understand there is a risk involved and she has been with me through a lot of my injuries. So she has helped me rehabilitate several times.
FOTH: Did you know when you were a young girl you wanted to be a jockey?
KM: I started riding show horses when I was 7 years old, my neighbors had them. It wasn't until 1984 when I was watching the Kentucky Derby that I was inspired to pursue this kind of path. I was enamored by Lafitt Picay ands I thought, wow what a great job. (laughs)
FOTH: Did you break babies or exercise horses for a bit before becoming a jockey?
KM: Yeah I started at Huckerhill Racing School and ended up Windfield Farms in Maryland to break babies and I came up to Woodbine and exercised horses for 7 years before taking my jockey license out.
FOTH: Tell us a little bit about your 1st race. Was that up at Woodbine?
KM: Yes. My 1st race went by so fast and was such a blur I don't even remember then name of the horse I rode. The trainer told me he wanted me to ride his horse cause he wanted his horse to be my 1st ride. He told me don't worry about what happens in the race. There was a horse in there called 'Time For A Quick One" and he told me not to worry about "Time For A Quick One" cause I wouldn't have any time for a quick one (laughs). That was the horse that won the race and I finished dead last.
FOTH: Were you nervous at all?
KM: No. I had been galloping horses for over 7 years and I knew a lot of the jockeys that were in the race and I had been in the jockey's room several times so no I wouldn't nervous at all.
FOTH: Looking back, was becoming a jockey easier or harder than you thought and why?
KM: It was horrible hard. It is still horribly hard. Your expectations are what you think it is and how difficult it is. People think all you think all you do is get on a horse and ride it around. The reality is, physically it is very demanding, mentally it is even worse and you get beat down every step of the way by people around you that are trying to make a living, when you look at it from my point of view now. People are just trying to make a living are looking at you thinking "can you perform" and your a bug rider saying "ah, give me a chance" It is just difficult. Now that I'm older they respect me more and you are treated differently.
FOTH: What some of the other tracks you have rode at besides Woodbine?
KM: I have rode at Penn National, Suffolk Downs, Tampa Bay Downs, rode at Thistledowns, Phila Park, West Virginia.
FOTH: Do you notice a big difference in the different tracks?
KM: I don't notice a big difference except the turf courses are different.
FOTH: I know from the bio you sent me, you won 5 stake races. Out of the 5 was one of them extra special?
KM: Well the biggest race I won was in the "The Lady Angela Stakes" which is the biggest 3 yr old filly race we have hear and she ended up being horse of the year up here.
FOTH: You also wrote me that you held 2 track records. Do you still own those?
KM: Yes I do. The 1st one was aboard a horse called 'Cool Shot" going 5/8's in 56 seconds at Fort Erie and the other is at Woodbine, longest distanced raced 1 mile and 7/8's in 2001 aboard horse called "Flying Commander"
FOTH: I see you like to do a lot of stuff when your away from the race track. Tell the visitors of this site what you like to do?
KM: I love to travel and I have been pretty much all over Canada, the US and Mexico. I have been through Europe and Africa and I like to do it pack packing. I am very adventurous, I like to canoe, camping, snowshoe, dog sledding, and hikes, etc.
FOTH: How long have you rode for and how much longer would you like to ride for?
KM: This is my 12th year riding and I am 37 now, so I'd like to ride until I am 40. I am 34 wins away from my 400th win which is my immediate goal. I am hoping to do that this year. Anything over that is a bonus.
FOTH: Oh I almost forgot, tell us about your 1st win.
KM: My first win, it paid $62.50. It was my 5th race ever. I didn't even have a stick cause apprentice riders don't ride with a whip until their 5th win. I just remember looking back wondering where everybody was (we both laugh). It was just a great feeling, just before the wire I was like "I guess I'm gonna win" (laughs)
FOTH: Did you get the initiation after the race?
KM: Yeah, I got a bucket of water and a couple eggs.
FOTH: Is there any track you would like to ride at one day before you retire?
KM: No, I really don't have any ambition. Most people want to ride in NY or Hollywood Park, I am just taking it day by day and just work on getting my 400 wins.
FOTH: Is it difficult being a female rider up in Canada?
KM: Yes and no. There is prejudice against females everywhere. It is tough to fight every day to prove your capable of doing the job cause it is still a very male dominated sport. In the jocks room my peers have a lot of respect for me and I find that very comforting and I feel very comforting that I ride with have a lot of confidence in me. I don't feel I have to prove anything to anybody anymore.
FOTH: I know Woodbine has slot machines. Ever gone over into that area at all?
KM: I have gone over there and pulled the lever a few times. I have wasted a couple bucks here and there, but I don't go over there very much.
FOTH: If some young girl came up to you and told you she wanted to become a jockey, what advice would you give her?
KM: Go back to school and do something else. A lot of work and a lot of pain and injuries involved.
FOTH: What injuries have you had and what was the worst one?
KM : My worst injury was when a horse broke it's leg and he fell on top of me and a couple other horses fell on me too. I spent 14 days in intense care and I broke my arm in 5 places and I punctured my lung and I had severe internal injuries in my heart and liver. It took my 9 months to get back to the races.
FOTH: Was there any thoughts about quitting?
KM: Yeah, I remember being in the emergency room saying "I'm not getting back on those bastards" (laughs) Once the pain goes away, your desire come back.
FOTH: When you retire do you think you will still be involved in horse racing?
KM: At this point I have been taking some night school for journalism and I write a column in a local paper so I am working toward journalism field.
FOTH: Take us through a typical day.
KM: I get up at 5am and I do a little big of exercising and stuff before I leave my home. I get to the track about 6am and I exercise horses till about 10:30am. I do follow up calls on horses that I have worked and catch up horses that are running and keep on top of my agent to make sure things are running smoothly. I try to do all my own follow-up work. I just try to keep in touch with my clients as much as I can.
FOTH: When you visit these other countries do you ever get a chance to go to other racetracks?
KM: I usually travel in the winter so a lot of the tracks aren't open. In Canada I have gone to Edmonton and Calgary racetracks, etc. I did go to one track and one in Ireland, but I can't recall the names.
FOTH: Is there any other female athletes or female jockey you get along really well with or admire.
KM: Laurie Gulas is a good friend of mine as I have known her for about 20 years and we have come up through the ranks together. I know a lot of different riders in the states. I know Jill Jellison really well and I know Helen Vanek as well. P.J. Cooksley is pretty good. We all do are own thing and I hope it helps the future generations.
FOTH: What keeps you motivated riding all this time?
KM: Personal pride. You have goals you have set for yourself and you want to achieve them. It is hard to keep yourself motivated, but I enjoy the fitness level of it.
FOTH: How are the people up at Woodbine.
KM: I have a great fan base up there. I have people that are constantly saying great effort, I bet on ya. I am gonna well known for bringing long shots into trifectas, so I have people saying "I'm glad I put you in the trifecta"
FOTH: Kelly I am all out of questions. Anything you want to say to wrap this up?
KM: I am thankful somebody put a website out there for us girls and thanks for the interview.
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