Lexi Merson is an apprentice rider currently riding at Phila Park and I emailed her some questions for an interview and here is what she had to say:
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up? Do you have any brothers or sisters?
LM: I was born in Baltimore, Md. and grew up in Harford County MD. I have two older brothers and an older sister.
FOTH: What do you parents think of you being a jockey and what sort of girl were you growing up?
LM: My parents love it. My mom wants me to send her every win picture I get and my dad can really get into it sometimes. He checks the overnights as soon as they come out and calls me up to tell me what horse I'm riding for what trainer. I gotta tell him, "I know this dad... it is my job you know." lol.
FOTH: Were you into horses at a young age?
LM: Definitely. I spent the majority of my time everyday riding my pony. Horses have always been a top priority in my life.
FOTH: What event or events led to you becoming a jockey? Did you exercise/gallop horses for a bit before becoming a jockey?
LM: Well I kinda knew from when I was little that I wanted to be a jockey. I would take my pony to the end of a field turn her around and gallop her as fast as she could go to the other end and just do it over and over again. I told my dad that's what I wanted to do and he got me a job at Bonita Farm for the Bonifaces. They taught me about racehorses from the ground up. I mucked stalls, groomed, galloped, hotwalked, and ran horses. Then when I learned enough I started galloping for Dickie Small at Pimlico till I was ready to ride my first race.
FOTH: Did anybody help teach you how to ride or did you do a lot of it on your own?
LM: Actually I'd have to say that my pony Bianca taught me really. lol. My mom put me on a horse when I was young, showed me the basics (cluck to go forward... pull back to stop.. you know...) and let me take it from there. I spent hours just trail riding and exploring on my pony and I can pretty much say that I learned how to really ride from her. (specially when shes running off with you at top speed dodging trees and jumping logs... then you learn pretty quick...)
FOTH: Tell me what you remember about your 1st race.
LM: My first race was at Pimlico on the turf. I rode a horse named Back To Even for Dickie Small and it was the horses first race too so we were both just kinda figuring things out together.
FOTH: Tell me about your 1st win. Did you win by a lot and did you get initiated after the race by the other jockeys and did you know it was coming?
LM: It was raining and a slop! Usually when a jock wins his first race they get doused with water. Well, considering I was already soaked I wasn't to concerned with that. But I got much worse then water. After what seemed like a million buckets of water (mixed with eggs, dirt, pickle juice, etc.) was thrown on me I was quickly and completely covered in baby powder and shaving cream. I looked like a white dripping mess.
FOTH: You are now riding at Philadelphia Park. What led to you going there and compare riding there to riding in Maryland.
LM: The jockey colony in Maryland is huge and I wasn't getting to ride very often. Not wanting to waste my apprenticeship I decided it was time for a change so here I am. Its a bit different style of riding here. In MD everyone kinda breaks and sits and everyone wants to be on the rail. Here the rail is dead and the jockeys do more sending since speed carries a little better.
FOTH: How long do you plan on riding for? LM: As long as I'm still capable and still loving it. FOTH: Do you feel with each race you are improving as a jockey?
LM: Definitely. I learn something new everyday. I don't think you ever stop learning in this game.
FOTH: There is a lot of riders at Philadelphia Park and a lot of girl riders to boot. Do you all pretty much get along with each other?
LM: You know the people here are great. Everyone gets along together pretty good. And no one hesitates to help you out if you need it.
FOTH: How exciting was it for you to ride like a 70-1 shot to the winner's circle not too long ago?
LM: Actually I think it was 80-1. lol. And it was pretty cool. People were coming up to me left and right saying "Why didn't you tell me to bet that horse?" And I'm thinking "You kidding? I wish I had bet the horse!"
FOTH: Do you have any problems with your weight and do you do anything special to stay in shape?
LM: I'm naturally small so I don't really have any trouble. I do go to the gym and try not to get too carried away with what I eat but I think every 20 yr. girl does that. I gotta admit though I do like to eat. Guess it's the Italian in me.
FOTH: Has your family come out to see you ride live at all?
LM: They've all come at one point but my dad comes out all the time.
FOTH: Have you gone into the casino area of the track yet?
LM: Well...... I've been in there twice but shhh.... don't tell anyone.. I'm not supposed to be in there, I'm not 21 yet. Slots aren't my thing anyway, I think there kinda boring.
FOTH: Take us through what you go through in a typical day.
LM: I get up about 5am, get to the racetrack at 6am. Get on my horses for the morning and talk to trainers. When I'm done I head over to the jockeys room, take a shower maybe a nap. Hang out until its time to ride the races. After the races either go out with some friends, go to the gym, or just home to relax. If its a dark day I might go back to Maryland and ride my pony or see my family.
FOTH: What are some hobbies or things you like to do away from the track or horse racing in general?
LM: Away from the track?? Huh?? Whats that?? lol. When I do have the free time I love to go out dancing. And I love ice-skating. Other then that if I'm not riding at the track I'm in MD riding my pony.
FOTH: Have you had a chance to do any sight seeing in the city yet?
LM: I saw the Liberty Bell. That's about it.
FOTH: Do you have any short term or long term goals for yourself?
LM: Just do the best I can everyday and see what happens.
FOTH: How do you prepare for a race? Do you read the racing form or do you pretty much just listen to what the trainer tells you in the paddock area?
LM: I have to have the form. I think it's so important to at least have an idea of what kind of horse your riding, what kind of horses your running against. Figure out how the race is probably gonna set up and were your best position should be. Of course you always gotta listen to what the trainer tells you. They're the ones training it so they should know there horse better then you. They'll know where the horse likes to be and how it likes to run. But for example if the trainer says go to the lead and your horse stumbles and gets left at the gate so you can't get the lead that's when it comes in handy to know how the race sets up and what your next best move is.
FOTH: If you could ride any one track, what track would it be and why?
LM: I would love to ride in New York. Aqueduct and Belmont would be incredible.
FOTH: Do you see yourself always being involved in the sport or when you retire you will just walk away from it?
LM: I don't think I could ever walk away from it. It's my life. I would love to be the Clerk of Scales when I retire. I'm always in the clerks office now as is asking if I can help do something. I would really love to have that job one day. People say I can't because I'm a girl and you have to go in the boys room to check there weight but I see quite a few places that has the scale up front now so everyone has to come out of the back to check like at Delaware Park.
FOTH: Have you had any injuries yet?
LM: I've been pretty lucky so far. I dislocated my shoulder twice. After the second time I had surgery on it. Broken wrist, torn ligaments and of course bumps and bruises. That's all so that's getting off easy in this sport!
FOTH: Do you watch replay of your races and see what you did and what you did wrong?
LM: Every race. And not just my races, I watch a lot of other races as well. You can't learn if you don't study!
FOTH: Lexi I am out of questions. Anything you want to add or say the floor is yours and thumbs up to you for the interview.
LM: Thank you! And good racing
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