Reina Gonzalez is a retired jockey who pretty much rode all over the place and some of you might remember her under name, Reina Olea, which she rode in over some of her career and here is her story:
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
RG: I was born in Compton Ca. I grew up all up and down the coast of California
FOTH: Did you come from a big family or a small family?
RG: There were 7 kids, 5 girls and 2 boys; we had 8 horses at our home in Rolling Hills Ca. most of us would all ride all the time!
FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up and were you into horse racing at all at a young age?
RG: My father was an owner of at one point 10 horses, he trained with Ron McNally, Pincay was his favorite rider, he named a good stake filly after me “Reina Pop” I was 8 when Pincay gave me a jocks saddle, I tried to use it barrel racing on my pony but after I kicked the older kids butts they decided to disqualify me because my saddle was too fast! When I was 4 my father kept pushing me to be a jockey when I grew up and I said “Are you kidding Pop? I wanna BE a RACEHORSE!!!”
FOTH: So at what age did you sort of think about becoming a jockey?
RG: I galloped for a year at Golden Gate at the age of 22, at 23 I rode my fist race, and I finished 2nd!
FOTH: So take me through some of the steps you took to become a jockey and what was your 1st job on a racetrack?
RG: I have been on and around horses since the age of 4, I evented and took my horse to college through intermediate level, when I found out there was no money in that I started to gallop, when that was too slow, I started reaching out to all the jocks in the Bay Area, Ron Hanson was the first to help me.
FOTH: How long did you exercise horses before you became a jockey? Did it feel natural getting up on a horse the first couple times you did that?
RG: I only exercised at a track for a year but I had broke babies in Maryland, and galloped at lots of farms back east. The 1st race I rode no one told me to ride with the equipment, I felt naked and bareback!
FOTH: Did you have somebody teach you how to ride or did you learn a lot on your own?
RG: Thank God I went to Florida, I had the good fortune of riding and learning from the masters, Earlie Fires, Maryann Alligood, Julie Krone, Katy Sweeny, Joe Bravo, Diane Nelson, Sidney Underwood. Later in New Jersey the riders were my family!
FOTH: Looking back, was becoming a jockey easier or harder than you thought it was going to be?
RG: WAY harder!!! They treated girls like crap! We got slim chances, more than the west coast but even if we won we would still get fired!!!
FOTH: What tracks did you ride at and did you have a favorite one?
RG: I rode all the California Fairs, Golden Gate, Bay Meadows, Calder, Gulfstream, Phila Park, Delaware, Garden State Park, Monmouth, Atlantic City, Aqueduct, Belmont, Turf Paradise. By far Monmouth!!! I loved the city, the trainers, the track, EVERYTHING!! Although my favorite win was on the turf at Belmont on Ojay Smojay, we won after Migliore dropped Bailey ( or vice versa, can’t remember) and my little guy jumped the fallen horse, took one down and put me up!!! Huge New York bred pot! Whhoo hoo!
FOTH: Tell me a bit about the almost $ 300.00 winner you had at Atlantic City Race Course?
RG: Gees! What a night! The trainer begged me to stay for the last said he had the filly sold for 1k after the race, just get her around on the turf for her 1st try on it. She was so rough on the dirt in warm up I almost scratched, but we stepped on the turf and wala! Sound! When the gate opened I sent hard thinking fastest way home! We were just loping along when the 1/8th pole comes up and I m like Holy shit where are they? I glanced under for a peek and I’ve still got 3 on em! Then I hear wild Larry the announcer say “ Heads up folks the tote board is smoking! Its gonna EXPLODE!!!” I turned into Angel Cordero and rode like HELL to WIN!!!
FOTH: How long did you ride for and what led to you retiring?
RG: I rode for six years, I quit for a year when I was fired after finishing 2nd on a VERY promising 2 yr. old, the owner’s wife did not like the way her husband smiled and shook my hand! Cost her the stake next out! The bias and constant battle was very hard on me, I did return in Phoenix a year later then retired to train and start a family.
FOTH: What did your family think of you being a jockey and did they ever come out to see you ride in person?
RG: My mom LOVED the races but was an OR nurse so she was always calling every hospital by every track to make sure there were good doctors! My dad passed away before I rode, maybe if he didn’t I would be rich!
FOTH: Tell me about your 1st race. Where was it at and were you nervous in the jock's room and going out to the paddock? Where did you end up finishing?
RG: One of the mean prejudice male riders told me I had to take lasix to ride, even though I was only 106lbs.! I lost another 7lbs. and had to carry weight! But, didn’t stop me from finishing 2nd!
FOTH: Tell me about your 1st win. Did you win by a lot or in a photo? What track was this at and what was the feeling like getting your picture taken in the winner's circle?
RG: My first TB win was on Sail Any Ocean at Vallejo. He was a 1st time gld. but still super LAZY!!!! I smacked him in all directions and he won by a couple. I was just hoping I didn’t get in trouble!!! He came back like “Whatever, I didn’t even feel it!”
FOTH: Did the jockey's get you good after the race and did you know it was coming and what did they get you with?
RG: Oh yeah! I was going to keep going back to the barn area then remembered might get taken down!! I jumped off and ran but they still got me with ice water!
FOTH: Tell me a funny jockey story and name names if you want he he.
RG: Once with the 10lb. bug at Gulfstream Park I was on the usual triple digit long shot on the turf with runoff unrateable speed, and as we blasted into the 1st turn my right (luckily) reins snaps in two! Well, this as you can imagine really sucks! I didn’t panic just thought (shit! gotta get outta of these big guys way!) So I reached down with my right hand grabbed the cheek piece and just guided him to the outside. When I thought all had passed, at about the 3 and 1/2, I look and here comes Maryann Alligood on my OUTSIDE!!!! I’m like What the heck? Go inside! She says “Shut up STUPID! I’m saving your dumb ass, now here grab the rein! Then she proceeds to scoop me the rein with her whip, after I grab the 1/2 piece, she rides off to finish her race!
FOTH: What injuries did you get while riding and what was the worst one?
RG: Too many! 8 concussions, 8 broken fingers, broken collarbone, broken elbow and wrist. The worst was in the morning five years ago in the morning, horse stumbled went down kicked my face, broke my nose, jaw, have 17 plates and screws in my face. After 4 plastic surgeries look good as new!
FOTH: What are you doing with yourself these days and do you follow racing much anymore?
RG: I own and train a nice string of youngsters with some partners in northern Calif.
FOTH: After you retired did you miss it at all or were you able to put that behind ya?
RG: I did not miss pulling weight or riding bad ones... but I did miss WINNING!
FOTH: Did you have a favorite horse or trainer that you liked to ride for?
RG: John Forbes... I still idolize him! Fave horse ummm hard one, Sparky Dunn Cee, flipper but, paid my rent! won 7 races on him!!
FOTH: What was the coldest day you ever rode in a race?
RG: It was –30 or something horrible like that night racing at Garden State Park
FOTH: Do you think the sport of horse racing will ever see another Triple Crown horse?
RG: YES!!! I’m gonna train it!
FOTH: Did you ever win any stake races while you were riding?
RG: Almost...2nd. Million Dollar Mom on Mother’s Day!
FOTH: If a young girl wanted to become a jockey, what advice would you give her?
RG: I have a young apprentice , SHE is SPECTACULAR! I would say start as young as possible with ALL horse aspects! Pony Club, eventing, point to points all will be preludes to racing, they need to know horses inside and out .Most of all, physical athleticism and EXTREME competitiveness is of utmost importance. Also, don’t ride until all ducks are in a row, need the VERY best agent to be the best!
FOTH: Thanks for the trip down memory lane. What are some memories that you hold dearly as a rider?
RG: Crossing the finish line first, staring down the empty track in the gate, galloping back relishing the win!
FOTH: Any last words? Thumbs up for the interview.
RG: Thank you for including me! I think you guys are doing a great job! Keep up the great work and I will be happy to help anytime!
FOTH: My pleasure Reina.