Darbie "Coco" James
is a retired jockey that I sent off an email interview to and her is what she
said to my questions:
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
DJ: I was born and raised in Beaumont, Texas.
FOTH: Do you have any brothers or sisters and did you know at a young age you wanted to become a jockey?
DJ: I have two brothers (both younger). They have no interest in horses. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to do something that involved horses. I had every horse book and horse figurine imaginable. We did not know anyone who had horses, so I must have seen a horse race on TV and that was that. Someone asked me when I was younger, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" My reply, "A Jockey!" My path was set. My grandmother bought me my first horse. I dabbled in some barrel racing and some good old fashioned back road style match racing. (i.e. My pony against your horse, ATV, bike, or anything remotely challenging.)
FOTH: What did you think of a racetrack the 1st time you saw one and were you
a tomboy at all when you were young?
DJ: I remember being so nervous, I knew everyone would be watching, and if I made a mistake it would be noted. Was I a tomboy when I was young? Oh, I still am.
FOTH: What event or events led to you becoming a jockey? Were you self taught or did you have some people help you along the way?
DJ: I was 18 and a friend called and asked if I wanted to get paid to exercise someone's horse. I thought, no problem, I will probably do some trail or arena riding. I had no idea that it would be a racehorse.
I asked for the directions and drove out to the farm. I saw a set of three starting gates, a circle of plowed dirt and I sat there in my car and thought, there's no way, I am not that lucky! There I met Randy Pratt and Felix Rogers. They explained to me that I am to ride the horse around the "track". I then started to get excited. I was told this won't be as easy as it looks. The horse came out of the stall wearing the smallest saddle I had ever seen (Up to this point in my life, I had only rode western).
I was informed how to get "leg up" and told to stay on the plowed circle. Sounds easy, right? OH, NO! My legs were burning after the 1/2 mile jog and 1 mile gallop. I couldn't even stand up afterwards! Randy and Felix asked if I wanted to come back and do it again. Even though I was exhausted, I didn't hesitate for one second and replied, "Yes!"
Randy and Felix told me that Laura Morris was their old
exercise rider, but she had moved on to pursue her career as a jockey. I would
be her replacement and they would help me on the road to becoming a jockey myself.
I was shown the basics and they referred me to other farms to build my cliental.
I then hit every farm within a 100 mile radius and galloped morning to evening.
I learned so much from each farm. One taught me to post, one how to work horses,
and one even how to break from gates.
FOTH: Tell me what you remember about your 1st race and were you nervous at all and what track was it at?
DJ: My first race. Ah! I was on a first time starter, Louisiana Babe, going 4 1/2 furlongs and in the 1 hole at Evangeline Downs. I was nervous, I just wanted to perform well. This could make or break my career. The jocks just kept telling me, "It's just like a morning work". FAT CHANCE! Them boys don't hustle out of the gates like that in the mornings! I was slammed out of the gates by three horses. We somehow managed to regain composure and finish 5th.
FOTH: Tell me about your 1st win and did you get the "jockey initiation"
after the race and what did they get you with?
DJ: My first win. Sweet Prosperity. That was her name. I think most girls dream of their wedding day, how the day will be, and how she will look. WELL, I dreamed of my first win picture and how I would look. I wanted my helmet off, me to be clean, the horse straight, the sun shinning, me tucked pretty at the wire and for God's sake no mudpants. I had it all planned. Then the rain came...lol. I KNEW that night I would win my first race. I was on a first time starter in a non-winners of two races, filly against the boys, but I still knew I would win. I had my stupid mudpants on, it was raining and dark. Yep, this is my luck and evidently my day! The filly came from dead last and the only saving grace to my dream picture was that I looked good at the wire.
The boys were kind, except for the Vaseline they put in my hair, which is near impossible to get out.
FOTH: What tracks did you ride at and how long did you ride for and did you
have a favorite track and/or horse that you rode over your career?
DJ: I rode at Delta Downs in 1991 and stayed for the Quarter horse meet. I wasted 6 months of my bug doing that! I shipped in a few times to Evangeline then left for Birmingham Race Course for a meet. I then decided I would try the new racetracks opening up in Texas, so I made my way home. I eventually decided galloping was much more enjoyable and a lot less stressful.
My favorite track would have to be Delta Downs. I rode with some great people and I LOVE the area!
I really cannot chose one favorite horse. I have a bunch that hold a special place: Gothic Leader, he was so easy to ride and always had a great attitude; Vegas Juliet, my most unsuspecting win and every time I rode her I never needed to whip her; Calidad Choque, she ALWAYS saved a burst for the end!; Clairessa, she could run forever!; Lemon Mousse, broke a track record with that $2500 claimer. They were all great horses regardless of their rank.
FOTH: Do you feel you were treated pretty fairly during the time you were riding?
DJ: Yes, I was lucky. There were other females riding at that track who had already paved the way.
FOTH: What sort of injuries did you have and was there any worst one that you
DJ: I was so lucky during my career! I just tore some ligaments in my knee and got some bumps and bruises.
FOTH: What led to you retiring and did you know at the time when you rode your
last race that it was going to be your last race and do you miss it even today?
DJ: A number of things led to me retiring. I just didn't have "it" in me anymore. I was not going to prove myself AGAIN to new trainers at the new tracks. I wasn't going to ride the 90-1 shot and have the trainer look at me after the race and ask "What happened?" --- I always wanted to say "What happened!! Are you kidding me? Look at the odds----everyone betting sees it, why wouldn't don't you?"
FOTH: Do you follow the sport at all nowadays and do you think another female
rider will win a Triple Crown Race one day?
DJ: I don't follow the sport too much nowadays. If it's on TV I will watch it, but I don't tend to make time to do so. I really hope women continue to excel in this sport.
FOTH: If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to become a jockey
what would you tell her?
DJ: Go to school, get an education first. Then try. Keep your mouth shut and your ears open.
FOTH: Looking back, was being a jockey easier or harder than you thought it
was going to be?
DJ: Looking back, it was easier that I thought it would be. I was fearless and young, this was my dream. I really was aware of the repercussions of serious and/or permanent injury.
FOTH: Did you ever get in any verbal arguments with any of the male jocks or
did you pretty much get along with everybody?
DJ: I had the privilege to ride with some outstanding riders. We were a true family. Of course, there were arguments along the way but every family has them. Everyone was safe and had so much talent (i.e. Robbie Albarado, Marlon St. Julien, Chris Emigh, Alvin Trahan, Steve Borque, Jerri Nichols (R.I.P), Kim Stover, Traci Baird...and the list goes on) It was a great time in my life and I am glad I was able to share it with those riders.
FOTH: What are you doing with yourself nowadays?
DJ: I used my time wisely. I galloped in the mornings and went to College in the evenings. I have a paralegal degree and work at a large law firm in New York. I have a completely different schedule than in my riding days...I have paid vacations and weekends off.
FOTH: Do you think the weights need to be raised for the jockeys at all?
DJ: Rather than the weights being raised, I think the trainers should not be "allowed" or "encouraged" to enter a horse in a race where the weight would be under a certain limit (say...115 pounds). I have rode horses that "got in" with 100 pounds. Thank God, the over limit was 7 pounds in Louisiana!
FOTH: Is being a jockey as dangerous as I think it is?
DJ: Any job where there is an ambulance following you around is a dangerous job! Combine that factor with the dangers of constant reducing and it isn't the healthiest or safest profession.
FOTH: If you had a daughter and she wanted to become a jockey, would you let
DJ: Oh, gosh no!
FOTH: I see your an ex-rider nowadays as well. For those who don't know tell
them exactly what an ex-rider is.
DJ: An exercise rider is someone who conditions the racehorses per the trainer's instructions. To me, they are the voice of the horse. They are the ones who can explain to the trainer the horse's likes, dislikes, fears, strengths, weaknesses, along with, the mental and physical well being of the animal.
Actually, I officially retired this December 2007 to pursue my career in the legal field.
FOTH: I am all out of questions. Thumbs up for the interview and going back
in time with me and any last words the floor is yours.
DJ: Thank you for the chance to go back and reminisce. Keep up the good work!
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