Felicia Denninger is a young jockey that is currently riding out Mountaineer Park and other parts out that way and here is her story so far:
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
FD: I was born in Rochester New York. But I grew up in Sodus NY about 45 minutes from Rochester. I lived with my mother and grandfather on a small farm. We raised all kinds of farm animals, mostly horses and cattle.
FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up? Were you a tomboy like many other female riders I have interviewed?
FD: When I was growing up I was very unpopular and yet I was a trouble maker in school. I have always had a problem with authority. I guess you can say that I was a tomboy and still pretty much am now.
FOTH: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
FD: Growing up I always wanted to be a Jockey, my father and brothers are very well-known riders. My father’s name is Alberto Ramos and my brothers are William Delgado who gallops California Chrome, Alberto Delgado an eclipse award winner and Gilberto Delgado all stakes winning riders. My one goal is to impress my father by beating his record, along with my brother’s records. I have to at least beat my siblings. I am the only girl in my family line to ride.
FOTH: When did horses start to enter your life and what did you think the 1st time you saw a live horse race?
FD: Horses have always been in my life. I was pretty much raised on the back of a horse, my mother was an exercise rider/trainer' she also gave riding lessons at our farm. My mother trained at Finger Lakes race track in upstate NY. I grew up watching horse races I honestly can't remember my thoughts I had after watching my first race.
FOTH: What was your 1st job on a racetrack and at the time did you know you wanted to become a jockey or had that not entered your mind yet?
FD: My first job at the racetrack was a stall cleaner. I started from the ground up, after cleaning stalls I went to cooling out horse's, groomed, pony, gallop and then jockey. I was happy I started the way I did for the fact I will always have something to fall back on. But through all of the hard work it was worth everything to become a rider.
FOTH: So how long did you exercise horses before you became a jockey? Did somebody teach you how to ride and did it feel natural getting up on a horse?
FD: I started galloping horses at a young age of 9yrs old helping a family friend gallop old classy horse's at a farm. Later on helped him with breaking babies around the age of 14 yrs. old. I galloped my first horse at the race track when I was 16 yrs. old. My mother taught me a lot about riding and could not thank her enough. She taught me horsemen ship, when it came to the speed work and race riding my uncle and older riders took over along with certain trainers such as Bryan Armstrong, and Joe Marino. Mostly all of it felt so natural to me. I am honestly happier on a horse then off.
FOTH: So take me through the last few steps of how you became a jockey and looking back now was it harder or easier that you thought it was going to be?
FD: My last few steps were plenty of gate work, working horses in company with other rider's. I ended up having to leave my home track at Finger Lakes in NY to Sam Houston park in Texas due to Finger Lakes stating they would not grant me a license as a jockey but had no reasoning for not giving an OK besides taking an unliking to my very high personality an my I don't care what you think attitude. I was always respectful, but at times just little to wild. When I went to Sam Houston it didn't take me long to pick up where I left off at Finger Lakes. Business picked up fast for the morning and within a month was riding races. I can say it was harder than I thought. Due to having to move state to finally get my license. But it gave me a chance to travel and see new places. It was the coolest experience
FOTH: What did you parents think about you becoming a jockey and have they seen you race live and have they got into a winner’s circle photo yet?
FD: My mother has always supported my dreams of being a jockey. My father not so much, but they both tell me do whatever makes you happy. My mother is the only family member to ever get in a win photo of mine. The photo she was in was my very first win photo.
FOTH: Tell me about your 1st race. Where was it at? Were you nervous at all before and in the post parade? Where did you finish?
FD: I rode my first race at Sam Houston Race Park in Houston Texas. It was a maiden race on the grass for fillies and mares. I was a little nervous but more excited could not sit still. The filly I rode was a little ball of nerves and unruly in the gate' she ran scared. So my first race was an interesting event. I ended up finishing last but at least made it around the track in one piece.
FOTH: Tell me about your 1st win. Where was it at? Did you win by a lot or in a photo? What was it like jogging the horse back to the winner’s circle for the 1st time?
FD: My win my first race at Finger Lakes race track in NY on a horse called leading artical trained by Kenny Smith an old family friend. It was both leading artical 9th start and my 9th start; we win by about 4 1/2 lengths. Jogging back to the winner's circle I was so happy I just about jumped out of my skin. I still have that feeling every time I win a race till this day.
FOTH: Did the jockeys get you good after the race and did you know it was coming?
FD: Walking back to the jockey room after the race I got it good by the other rider's in the room. I was tossed in a tub of cold water, had hot water tossed on me, shaving cream pie to the face. Was definitely a fun time.
FOTH: Do you think so far in your career you have been treated pretty fairly as a jockey?
FD: Honestly I have been treated fairly. You have your few people who are rude or that use you in the morning then spin you in the afternoon. Thus far I have been very lucky.
FOTH: Tell me what a typical race day is like for you these days?
FD: A typical race day for me now a days is work morning at mountaineer or thistle I rotate days. The day’s thistle runs and I have horses in ill drive to thistle then ride my races then back to mountaineer to ride there. I work seven days a week.
FOTH: Tell me about Thistledowns, which is one of the tracks you are currently riding at?
FD: I mostly ride mountaineer, thistle is only when I have something in. I love both areas, both places have friendly people. It’s a very pleasant place.
FOTH: Also tell me about Mountaineer Park. Do you mind night racing and have you been in the casino they have there?
FD: I love mountaineer park call me crazy but I made this place my new home. I love night racing always have. The casino isn't as good as the casino at Oaklawn Park in hot springs Arkansas.
FOTH: What are some things you like to do when you’re not doing racing related things?
FD: I hang out with friends, spend time at home with my son, Wednesday nights are special its girls night out with my buff Sophie Richgels.
FOTH: Do you feel you have a certain riding style?
FD: I do feel as if I have a different riding style than most, horses seem to run for me I can't explain why but they give me all they have. I talk a lot during post parade the horses seem to relax better than if I'm quiet.
FOTH: If some young girl came up to you saying she wanted to become a jockey, what advice would you give her?
FD: My advice would be just making sure you are ready. It's a tough dangerous sport. It’s not just you out their there can be 14 of us out there. Lots of gate work, get a clock in your head and most of all switch sticks. Practice makes perfect. Learn to take dirt in the morning and pull down goggles.
FOTH: Do you ever have any problems with your weight?
FD: I have never had an overweight problems. My biggest problem is gaining weight. Only time I have seen a hot box is in the winter. Just to warm up in between races.
FOTH: Have you had a favorite horse that you have ridden so far in your career?
FD: I'd have to say I have two favorite horses to ride sunshine Valentino and twinning hearts those two try so hard for me every time. They have never missed the board with me. Sunshine Valentino is the only horse I have ever win two races on.
FOTH: What has been some of the most surprising things as far as being a jockey so far since you became one?
FD: Well so far I haven't noticed anything surprising that has happened to me just yet.
FOTH: Have you had any injuries and if so what has been the worst one?
FD: I have been hurt more than most young riders, I've gone down multiple times. The worse spill was at Lone Star Park in Dallas Texas.
FOTH: Is there any tracks you have seen on TV that you would like to ride at one day?
FD: I have almost been to every track in the USA but I would love to go ride in California. It’s and amazing area
FOTH: Felicia thumbs up for the interview and I am out of questions any last words you would like to say to wrap this up?
FD: Thank you for your time and enjoy your week and good luck with the website.
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