Nancy Buckley is the only female rider I have ever known that rode both thoroughbred horses and drove as a driver in harness races!!! Here is her story:
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
NB: I was born and raised in Pennsylvania!!!!!!
FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up?
NB: A tall skinny tomboy. Lots of sports. Basketball, hockey, softball, and of course, horseback riding!!
FOTH: What did you want to be when you grew up and what was the area like that you grew up in?
NB: I always knew it would be horses of some sort. When I was little, my parents would drag me down to Brandywine Race Track!! I always loved the outrider. I would also go home and pretend I was a horse and race in my back yard!!
The area where I grew up is very horsey!!!!!! The heart of fox hunting. Steeplechase racing. And tons of rolling farms with zillion of lush pastures.
FOTH: At what time did horse racing start to enter your life?
NB: I was around 6 years old.Buckpasser was my favorite!!
FOTH: Now you told me you galloped horse in 1979 and 1980 when Parx Racing (aka phila park) was called Keystone Racing in 1979 and 1980 for Trainer F Bruce Miller. How did that come about and did it feel natural getting up on a horse?
NB: I started working for Bruce in 1978. At that time I was riding show horses for the late Kay Holman. At Hi Bid Farm, we had a timber horse (a TB that races over high wooden fences.ie Maryland Hunt Cup!) He was the first race horse I ever sat on. His name was Traveling Son... He was a tough bugger to handle, but I got along well with him.
Bruce has an ad in the paper for farm help. I answered his add. His first question was “Can you gallop a racehorse?” When I told him about being Traveling Sons rider. He knew the reputation of the horse and hired me on the spot.
Well Chris.....lol...It took me a year to master really galloping. Bruce finally sent me to Garden State (when it was burnt down just a training center) this is where I LEARNED and got good...
I was lucky to have been born with natural balance and kind hands.
FOTH: Now when you were galloping back in 79 obviously there were not a lot of female jockeys around. Did the thought of becoming a jockey enter in your mind say around 79 when you had a few months of galloping under your wing so to speak?
NB: The thought of being a jockey never crossed my mind as I am 5'8.But.I was very light....After a few years on the track, the burning desire set in.Bruce said NO!!! You will be too weak if you try to do flat track weight.so, he named me on his flat horses at the hunt meets. I only rode a few, but I did well and rode against some top notch jocks.
FOTH: Did anybody teach you how to ride and did a lot of trainers not want to put you up on a horse because you were a female?
NB: I actually taught myself how to ride. I live where there was a pony farm down the hill from my house. After school, I would run down there and muck stalls to be able to ride...
As far as trainers putting me on their horses. In the mornings, because of my reputation, several men wanted me on their very nervous filly's in the morning. As I said, I was too heavy (lol 125 lbs.) to make riding weight.at the flat track. There was only 1 girl riding back then at Keystone.Rochell Lee
FOTH: Now take me through the steps of you actually deciding to ride races.
NB: 1st being exposed to horse racing at a very young age
2d Being at the track and galloping, breezing, breaking from the gate, and having respect from most horsemen
3d my then boyfriend was a jockey
4th Eddie Acaro came to our house for dinner and all we did was learn how to scrub on a horse, get low and win
FOTH: How long did you ride for and I know it was a long time ago, but tell me where your 1st race was and what you remember about it even now.
NB: As far as riding races, not long......
My first race I remember like yesterday. It was at the Radnor Hunt Races....I actually can name the jockeys in Keystones room whom loaned me stuff
Tony Trabino pants
Joe Muccholi boots
Bruce Pronesti (my then boyfriend) saddle
There were 18 starters I finished 5th. WHOOOO HOOOOO what a day!!
The following week was Fair Hill... I looked at the odds board 9/2 finished 4ht dropped my whip and caught heck from Bruce...lol
FOTH: How long did you ride for and around how many races do you think you rode around and what tracks did you ride at?
NB: Just answered that sorry
FOTH: Did you manage to win any races and what led to you to stop riding as a jockey?
NB: No a sanctioned but point to points yes
FOTH: Now this will be a 1st for me after almost 200 interviews as you told me you also were a harness drive!!! How did this come about and what tracks did you ride at as a harness driver and around time was this that you rode in harness races?
NB: Wow this is a biggie
My dad passed and left me a sum of money. I had been away from racing for quite some time. But missed it so much...I had gotten too heavy for flats, plus. Very out of shape...Being my dad loved harness racing, I thought hummmmmmmmm...So.I showed up at a training center in Florida. Got hooked up with a big loser. (Didn’t take me long to figure that out) bought my first horse, and had to learn all over again. So I worked by his side for about 6 months learning equipment, shoes.conditions, ECT.....Always keeping my horsemanship....
A year later. I got my trainers license. It took 4 trainers to write a letter to the USTA to sponsor you. Then a written test......bits, shoes, equipment. Conditions... (And I must add, man oh man is it different) I passed first try!!
The following year I went for my driver’s license....Again 4 sponsors. They all had to be journey men drivers...I passed 1st try. This involved going on the track before the judges and doing what they call a " rated mile " They tell you the 1/4 fractions they want you to cut, and you must prove, not only can you do this, but handle your horse on the track the entire time without a pony...
I also want to add that in the end of my racing days, (2002-2003) I was the outrider at Pompano Park receiving my final injury... While escorting a pacer to the gate...he refused. Throwing the wheel of the bike under my pony's leg, causing them both to rear up....I held onto the racehorse, but got tossed a mile high. End result. Torn ACL (left) broken ankle (right) and broken tailbone!!!!!! But to still show how tough we women have to be!!! I post paraded the next race, but then did realize... Crap I am hurt!!!! Oh and guess what. The Nag won at 25/1 but got ruled off all tracks a month later for being too dangerous...
I drove at several tracks...Pompano Park. Hazel Park Scioto Downs Lebanon Raceway Northfield ....and several fairs. The big one was Delaware Little Brown Jug. I did not drive in the jug lol just a race on that day 2 years in a row.
FOTH: How big of an adjustment was it to go from being a jockey/ex-rider to riding in harness races and who taught you how to ride in those and what made you decide to ride harness races?
NB: WOW DIFFERENCE
First of all....oh wow where do I start?
Ok Horseman.... there are some very talented wise great old timers....They would train on hay, oats and corn and win some big races....They the younger set came in...I really don't want to say much about this group....There is so much to say,,but,,,,I can't...
Terms... Their poles are backwards from TBs...In flat racing the 1/4 pole means ya have a 1/4 mile left to run...In harness the 1/4 is the very start of the race....Took a lot of adjustment..
The word “running...Like Are you running tonight??? NEVER say this word. Running is breaking stride.... I almost got shot when I said. What race are we running in tonight???
Equipment.... WOW I was one of the first to bring blinkers... They call them hoods... They would make fun of me saying. Lol her comes that "running girl with her fancy running stuff" LO my usta trainers average was 487...beat that guys.
Head poles wow brutal. But, when you are so far behind the horse. If he or she is lugging in or getting out....you have no control. So head poles.
As far as who taught me how to drive... That guy at the training track taught me how to jog. But, with my riding experience....I taught myself how to drive....Not too hard.
FOTH: I know there are a couple female harness drivers nowadays, but do you think or know that you were the 1st one to do such a thing and I am sure you are the only female to do both.
NB: Chris I really do not know if I am the first or only... women to have done both..... But I must say. When I got my trainer /driver’s license. There were no women drivers.........Wait Debbie Day...She was a female driver. But I don't think she ever rode a race. I know Julie Krone rode Money Maker under saddle. But it was for an expedition race and it was under saddle... This would be something to research. But, when I was doing it, not too many records were kept.
FOTH: Do you win any races as a harness driver and are there a big difference in doing both and what would you say is the big difference between the 2?
NB: Yes I won several at Pompano and Sciota Qualifying races.
There is a big. The big is the different feel. When you are on a horse, the control and connection is much better...When sitting behind, first of all, pray they do not kick.
FOTH: You also told me you hold a trainer’s license as well!!! Tell me about that and how were you a trainer for and did you win any races as a trainer?
NB: I was assistant trainer for Bruce Miller... To tell you how great he was. In 1979 or 80.we had 5 stalls at Atlantic City. We ended up 4th or 5th leading trainer. As far as my harness license. Yes I won a lot of races and my USTA % was 487 that is high. A lot of trainers would say,” you didn't have a barn of 30!!! Of course your score is high!! I would just pity them. My score was high because my horses were healthy and fit!!
FOTH: You also said you were a groom for Royal Roberto. For those who don’t know what is the job as a groom?
NB: Good you asked me this!!! I was hired to exercise and groom this wonderful animal because I was a GIRL. The only one in the shed row...This great stallion was tough and hated men...So Jimmy Iselin hired me to groom him...jog him. Run him. Just be his mom. What a wonderful experience this was... We also had Crafty Prosector...
I would come back to the stable area every day with a slurpee for him. Our night watchman would tell me Bert heard my car and started going nuts.lol ohhh the memories!!!
FOTH: The only thing you weren’t was an owner and hot walkers, so tell me were you either an owner or hot walker at some point ha ha?
NB: I was an owner. I had 5 of my own jug heads at one point...... And of course I walked many hots... When I worked for Bruce. We all worked together. He had me and 2 other girls. We were known as Bruce’s Angels. Since only he and Jonathan Sheppard had girls working for them back in the day. Oh and Dear Del Carrol
FOTH: Now what did you do when you were working for Jonathan Sheppard?
NB: I never worked for Jonathan I worked for Bruce, but, we always worked horses in the am together...
FOTH: Now looking back was becoming a jockey, harness racing driver, trainer as hard as you though it was going to be and out of all things you have done as far as racing goes what was the hardest one and why?
NB: WOW tough one. Since I only rode for Bruce, he had faith in me.... wow this is a tough question as it was so long ago!! As far as harness. Those guys knew they should fear me. I came onto the scene with a ton of experience and good racing stock.no fear, and well um let’s just say knowledge!!
FOTH: If you weren’t involved in horse racing what do you think you would be doing with yourself and I assume you will be involved in horse racing in one form or another for a long time to come, Am I right?
NB: Ok Chris, I am not any longer involved in racing. I am raising a son with disabilities. This warrants me to focus on him. Racing is a 24/7 gig.
You also did not ask about injuries there have been some. And my old broken bones want nothing to do with it.
I do go to the races at least 1 time a week though. I will never get it out of my blood...
I will say this though. If the Meadowlands asks me to drive in the female challenge. I would do it. I still have my racing silks and they still fit!!
FOTH: As an ex-jockey, can you tell when some jockey gives a horse a bad ride?
NB: Of course you can see a bad ride.
FOTH: Will there ever be a Triple Crown horse and will another female ever win a Triple Crown race and did you ever get a chance to see Julie Krone ride in person?
NB: I hope we have a Triple Crown winner. Our local hero was Smarty Jones. I exercised Mr. Chapman’s fox hunters back in the day!!
As far as Julie. We galloped together a very long time ago. She was just a little girl, but I knew she would be BIG and yes Rosie (Napravnik) will possibly be a Triple Crown winner. That girl can ride!!
FOTH: Is there any track that you have never been to that you would like to go to one day?
NB: Santa Anita!!!!
FOTH: Nancy thanks for doing this very interesting interview to say the least. Any last words and again thumbs up for doing this and taking us back in time.
NB: Chris Thank you for this. It was short. There was so much I left out so much as this has been my life for many years. Gosh the memory's that has been stirred up now. I feel the urge to come back. My weight is good. My head says yes. But my bones say no.
There were several people I have not said anything about as there is not enough time... I could converse for hours and hours about my time at the track.
Back to our main page