Mary Jo Brennan is back riding at Philadelphia Park after riding for the past few years in the mid-west. I got Mary on the phone and here is her story:
FOTH: : Where were you born and where did you grow up?
MB: I was born in Philadelphia, PA and I grew up in New Jersey.
FOTH: : DO you have any brothers or sisters?
MB: I have 3 brothers and I one sister and I am the youngest.
FOTH: : What does your family think of you being a jockey?
MB: Well, at first I think it took them a little getting used to. I think they thought I'd grow out of the idea, but they kinda got used to that this was something I really wanted to do and they knew I loved to ride horses and I love horse racing. My family are now my biggest fans. They are always interested and always watching the races and they are the most thrilled people when I win and that's great.
FOTH: : What sort of girl were you growing up? Were you a tomboy like most of the other female riders I have spoken too?
MB: There seems to be a common thread there and yes I was a tomboy and it is all my brother's fault too because when I was a little baby they were tying me to the sled and flipping me around and faster I would go the more I'd laugh. I was jumping with a mini bike when I was 4 till my mother found out (laughs) and she put the squash on that one. My family wanted to learn how to ski so they brought a pair of plastic skis that at K-mart and took me to the top of the hill and pushed me off and as I was going down my dad asked me how did I like it and I was like "this is great." The bigger the thrill the faster I go.
FOTH: : At a young age did you know you wanted to be a jockey or was that something that was far from your mind?
MB: Actually from the youngest age I've always loved horses even before I was involved with them. Nobody is involved with horses except for me. A friend of my father's was involved with horse racing and me being the little tomboy that I was and the guy knew that I was, he looked at me said that I was tiny and that I have really big hands, you have boy's hands, you should think about being a jockey. That planted the seed and got my got my tomboy imagination going and my mind and heart was just off running. Kentucky Derby day for me was like what Christmas is to everybody else.
FOTH: : Did you ever go to any of the local tracks when you were younger before you started riding?
MB: I never went to Liberty Bell, but it is a shame Garden State Park met it's demise and also Atlantic City Race Course one of the best turf courses in the country. Atlantic City Race track is still around and I think in the very near future we are going to have racing there again and I look forward to that.
FOTH: : What actual event or events led to you becoming a jockey?
MB: Actually when I was younger I started riding show horses, Arabians as a matter of fact. They are wonderful show horses, they are very versatile, they jump, they do everything. I did that and when I got older it was time to think about race riding so I went to a couple farms in New Jersey and started there and then went to the track and continued on.
FOTH: : Tell us what you can remember about your 1st race?
MB: My very 1st race I don't remember the horse's name but I rode for Robbie Robbins, who really started me out on the race track and he is still have a great working relationship with him to this day. The horse, was a mediocre horse, but he was a game horse and he ran 3rd that day. It was exciting I have to say and it felt just really right. I didn't feel out of place or like a fish out of water. It was a great experience and it was set setting a goal many years ago and then get to live it.
FOTH: : What track was that at?
MB: Philadelphia Park.
FOTH: : Tell us about your 1st win.
MB: My 1st win was on a horse named "Played the Palace". The 1st win is always a thrill and again it was very exciting and very rewarding and it again goes back to the same theme, you work all these years to reach and even be part of the game and your riding your 1st horse, living your dream and getting your 1st win is just icing on the cake to that. This was also at Phila Park.
FOTH: : Did the jockeys get you after the race?
MB: You don't know the answer to that one? (laughs big time)
FOTH: : How bad did they get you?
MB: Pretty bad. I think that pair of jocks pants got retired that day.
FOTH: : I know you rode in the NJ/PA area when you were an apprentice jockey. Where did you go ride after that?
MB: Well I ended up going down to Miami and also another great racetrack that we haven't even talked about, Hialeah, which was probably my favorite racetrack in the country. Long story short I ended up in the Midwest, which is where I have been the past 7 or 8 years and it was a great experience and in the Midwest most of the tracks, the meets are fairly short. They are only like a few months long and I ended up doing a lot of traveling. I had a great time meeting lots of different people and cultures. I came to a point where I wanted to come back and I like it hear and it is a great place to race as they have racing here (she is meaning phila park-chris) year round and there is still a number of other tracks that aren't far away that lets me travel and see other people and it keeps things interesting. This is a great place to race and I decided to come back here and ply my craft here and I plan on staying and I am very, very happy to be back on the East coast.
FOTH: : Did you notice a much a difference in the way jockeys rode at the different tracks?
MB: Yeah, that is really neat that you asked that question. I find that riders on the East Coast are a little more sulky, they ride tighter and do more race riding. Riders on the East Coast you better be tied on out there. Being in the Midwest, where some tracks have long stretches, riders tend to be more patient, which is a great quality to have.
FOTH: : What was it like coming through the stable gate at Phila Park for the 1st time in such a long time?
MB: It was like going home. It was weird driving up Gallaway Road and making that left hand turn into the stable gate and having made that left hand turn so many times so long ago it was like seeing old friends. It's like turning up to your mother's house.
FOTH: : Were most of the tracks you rode at pretty receptive of female riders or did you have to prove yourself?
MB: Generally speaking there is not as many riders in the Midwest as the East coast so there are not as accustomed to it. Any female rider in the Midwest or anywhere else has to prove herself, so here I am an out of towner and a female, it was double troubkle. From the trainers and riders I always had a great acceptance and any track I have ever rode I have been told I don't ride like a girl, I look like a man on the horse. The feedback I have always got has been nothing but positive.
FOTH: : Do you have any special moments as a jockey?
MB: My proudest moment, and it actually is not even a moment, it is a horse called "Hoist Da Baba" and I rode him while in the Midwest and he is actually by a Pennsylvania sire and I hooked up with this horse in the Midwest and had a great relationship with this horse. His trainer did a great job with him and we ended up winning quite a few stake races. We went to Remington Park and they have a sprint series there, which is their own little TrIple Crown so to speak. I sweeped all 3 of them with this horse and the 3rd leg, we broke the track record and this horse was named horse of the year in 1999. It was very special to me and he was a very special horse and the horse overcame a lot of challenges in order to do what he did that year and I am very proud to have been part of it.
FOTH: : Take us through a typical day.
MB: I get up about 4:30 am and go downstairs and make some coffee and get dressed. I head out the door and go to the track and generally do what ever rider does in the morning, which is work out horses and maybe test drive a horse and to try to get to know what is going on in the horse's head so you know that much more about the horse when you ride them in the afternoon. Then around 10: 00 am or 11:00 am I get done doing that and then I go to the jock's room and relax and then tend to my business in the afternoon.
FOTH: : If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to become a jockey, what advice would you give her?
MB: One actually did not too long ago. (laughs) The advice I would have, #1: follow your own instincts, #2: take your time and learn how to gallop horses, learn horsemanship in general cause horsemanship will carry you, not only in your riding, but in any career on the racetrack. #3: Learn your craft and make sure you have a business plan and have some goals and then set out to achieve them.
FOTH: : How much longer would you like to ride for?
MB: Actually I feel great and I am riding better now than I ever have. I will be riding in one capacity or another until I can't get up on them anymore and I don't see that anytime soon.
FOTH: : I know you came off a very bad shoulder injury. Tell us a little about that and was that your worst injury you have ever had?
MB: I broke half a dozen ribs, dislocated my collarbone and it speared my ribcage and they had to do surgery and pry that thing out of there and sew it back on where it belonged. It was quite painful and a lengthy recovery. I would say it was the most painful injury I have. Different injuries are different. What hurts the most is just getting side tracked. You ride, things are going great, your having fun and then all the sudden everything comes to a screeching halt. You just have to lie back and heal up and go from there. It is just part of the game.
FOTH: : Do you think another female will win a Triple Crown race?
MB: Sure. You don't think so?
FOTH: : I think it could happen if a woman gets a decent mount in one of those races.
MB: I'm gonna be the one to do it. Of course it will happen.
FOTH: : Any hobbies or things you like to do when your away from the racetrack?
MB: I love to read. I'm an avid reader. Actually when I am away from the racetrack I like to ride horses (laughs) I like to fish. I still like to ride motorcycles and all that tomboy stuff.
FOTH: : Is there any one track you have seen on TV that you would like to ride at one day?
MB: I would love to go to California. One of my brothers used to live out there and he went out to Delmar and said it was absolutely gorgeous. I would love to ride at Atlantic City again and also Hialeah again.
FOTH: : Memories of Atlantic City.
MB: it was night racing and it was always fun and as an east coast rider, you rode night and day. You go down and the salt air was coming off the ocean and it was a whole different quality of an experience and it was always laid back and everybody there was there to just enjoy racing. When you got there you could just go "ah I can relax now" It was just a lot of fun.
FOTH: : If you owned a track or you were the president of thoroughbred racing what things would you do to make horse racing better or more popular?
MB: The 1st thing I would do would be to fly out to Chicago to talk to the owner of Arlington Park because that man has done a wonderful job with that racetrack, has made no compromises and it is just a wonderful place to go for the racing public. It is a beautiful racetrack and it is just a great experience to just go there for the day and enjoy horse racing for the beauty and the sport of it.
FOTH: : Mary I am out of questions, anything you want to say to wrap this up?
MB: Thanks for the interview Chris and I just love doing what I do and I am very happy and I just wish happiness for everybody else in the world as well.