Melissa Stortz is the sister of jockey Marcia Stortz and when I found out she was riding down at Charlestown I knew I had to get an interview her and here is what was said.
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
MS: I was born in Maryland and I lived there for 8 years and I moved to California.
FOTH: I know you have one sister that was a jockey, do you have any other brothers or sisters?
MS: I have half sister.
FOTH: What do your parents think of you following in your sister's footsteps and becoming a jockey?
MS: They are very supportive and they just wanted to see us to whatever made us happy.
FOTH: When your sister was riding a few years back did you know you wanted to follow in her footsteps so to speak?
MS: I had started galloping horses with the intentions of always riding, but I just wasn't ready and when she finally did it, that kinda pushed me a little harder cause I always followed in her footsteps when it came to sports and things like that growing up, it just kinda helped me get some more inspiration.
FOTH: How much younger are you than your sister?
MS: We are 16 months apart.
FOTH: Is she still currently riding or did she retire?
MS: No she blew her knee out and 3 had 3 knee surgeries and 2 ACL replacements and finally had to give it up and she is now a school teacher.
FOTH: Tell me a little bit about your 1st race. Was that out in California or here on the East Coast?
MS: My 1st race was in California at Golden Gate Fields and I won. My sister was there and she helped me get ready in the room, put the rubber bands on the silks right and that meant a lot to me that she was there for my 1st race.
FOTH: I was gonna ask this earlier, but your sister, since she was a jockey, I guess you asked her for a lot of advice and stuff.
MS: She helps me out and growing up we were really combative with each other and when started riding there was a little competitive edge there, but she has been very helpful, she gave me all her tack and have been very supportive of me.
FOTH: Did you ever ride in a race against your sister or did that not happen?
MS: No, never happened.
FOTH: How many months did you ride out in California before you came to the East Coast?
MS: My 1st race was April 16th and I came out to the East Coast in August, so I was in California for about 4 months.
FOTH: Your sister did the same thing you did, she rode out on the West Coast for a short time and then came out east. Was that your plan as well when you started riding and do you have the same jockey agent that she did?
MS: No, I didn't. Her agent helped me, he knew a guy named Joe French, who knew my current agent, Mike Rose, so her agent helped get me out here (Charlestown-chris) and also he helped me, he wasn't my agent, but he helped me out as a friend and helped me with my riding and set me up out here.
FOTH: So was that the plan for you to come out east at all or that sort of just happened?
MS: My plan "A" was that I was gonna go up to Canada and ride, but that kinda fell through and didn't really want to leave the West Coast, but I decided to come out here as this seemed like a better option. Things had just kinda fallen into place and Mark (her sister's old agent) kinda helped me out. When I first started riding I wasn't ready to go anywhere and after a few months I was like it is time to go somewhere where there is more opportunity and that is what I did and so far it has worked out.
FOTH: Did you ride any other tracks on the West Coast besides Golden Gate
while you were out there?
MS: Yeah I rode Bay Meadows and the fairs out there as well.
FOTH: What is the difference, if any, of those tracks as opposed to Charlestown besides the difference in size of the track?
MS: The main thing is obviously the size of the track and bigger fields. I think there is a lot more opportunity for female riders out east.
FOTH: Have you rode at any other tracks on the East Coast besides Charlestown yet?
MS: No only Charlestown so far.
FOTH: Are female riders generally accepted at Charlestown?
MS: I feel very accepted here and have done pretty well for just coming out here and I have won 9 races within a month of being here and I have been 40% in the money so far.
FOTH: I wanna backtrack a bit. After you got that 1st win, did you get initiated and did you know that was coming?
MS: (giggles) I knew it was coming, I think we weren't expecting me to win my 1st race so it was pretty light initation. They got me with water and a few eggs smashed on my head.
FOTH: Take me what you go through in a typical day.
MS: I wake up at 5:30 am or 5:45 am and I get ready and I am on the track by 6:30 am and get on some horses and then there is break time and then I get on some more and then head to the gym and then I go home and take a nap and because it is night races here, I go to the room and then ride and then get a little bit to eat and go to bed and do the same thing the next day. (laughs)
FOTH: Is there much do to down around that way?
MS: Washington, DC is not too far away, I haven't gone out too much since I have been here.
FOTH: Do you get recognized outside the track at all?
MS: Not really. At the gym a few people I take classes with know that I am a rider and have told their friends about me.
FOTH: Do you have any problems with weight at all or is it easy for ya?
MS: I wouldn't say it is easy and I work on it and diet and exercise and I have to hit the box (sauna-chris) every know and then.
FOTH: How long would you like to ride for?
MS: That is a tough question. It would depend on how my health is going and how I am doing. If I get hurt or go down it would probably be a short lived. I just want to ride out my bug year and then see how things are going and make a decision based on that.
FOTH: How to you prepare for a race. Do you study the racing form or do you pretty much do what the trainer says for you to do when you speak to him in the paddock?
MS: I look over the program and see how I think the race is gonna go and then I go and listen to the trainer when we are out in the paddock and it usually I tried to do what the trainer says, but when the gates open things don't always play out the way you want.
FOTH: Are you the only full time female rider at Charlestown and do you get along really well with all the other riders?
MS: Yes I get along with all the riders and there is a couple other female riders that ride once in a while that have come in to race. I ride every night and I am the only full time female rider right now.
FOTH: Are the turns at Charlestown as tight as they look on TV?
MS: Yeah, the turns are a little tight and you need to watch out for yourself and know exactly where you are and where everybody else is and take care of yourself. I think I have adjusted to the track really well.
FOTH: Do you think another girl will win another Triple Crown Race?
MS: I would like to think so, yes.
FOTH: Do you think there will ever come a time when a female riders gets the same respect as a male rider does or will there always be that, a man is stronger than a woman theme?
MS: I think there will always be that perception.
FOTH: Do you have a favorite horse or trainer that you like to ride for?
MS: My 1st horse I rode on was special. Of course all the winners I have rode as well. (giggles and laughs)
FOTH: If some young girl came up to you and said she wanted to become a jockey, what advice would you give her?
MS: I would make sure she is ready. I galloped horse for a long time before I started riding and there is a lot of riders male and female that don't ride for very long before they become jockeys. I grew up riding horses so I had a lot of background and I think that has helped me and just getting in with the right people and making sure your fitness level is good cause your considered a professional athlete. Also getting in with the right agent and making sure your ready to ride.
FOTH: Do you keep in touch with your sister a lot?
MS: Yeah we talk 2 or 3 times a week.
FOTH: Do you miss the West Coast and your friends back home much and are you adjusting to the new time zone your in?
MS: I consider myself a fairly adaptable person and I do miss some of the people, but I am very happy and content here.
FOTH: Is there one track you would like to ride at one day that you have maybe seen on TV?
MS: I would like to ride at Churchill Downs during the Kentucky Derby. Of course I would like to ride at any of the big tracks, NY, Gulfstream, Delmar, etc.
FOTH: Do you miss riding on the turf at all?
MS: Actually my last race out west was on the turf course and I did get to ride in quite a few turf races and I do miss it a bit, but I am just happy I am out here cause I am riding more horses and getting more opportunities to ride out here than out there.
FOTH: Do you feel with each race your improving as a rider? Do you watch replays of your races?
MS: I am learning from my mistakes and I can watch a replay of my race and I can see what I did wrong and now I can get more of a perspective of what I should have done and I am finding my own mistakes and the other riders have been helping me and I ask questions and they have helped me out a lot.
FOTH: I am out of questions. Anything you want to say to wrap this up?
MS: Just thanks for the interview and good luck with the website Chris.
Back to Interviews page