Gina Rose is a retired jockey
and I recently got in contact with her to see if she would be interested in
doing an interview for my website. She agreed so I emailed her some questions
and here is what she said to them:
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up? Did you come from a big family or a small one?
GR: I was born in Lexington KY and that is were I grew up. My family was small. I only have one brother.
FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up? Did you have a love for horses at a young age?
GR: I was a tomboy from birth. I always wanted to be outside playing sports, climbing trees, and spending time at my grandparent's farm in Eastern Kentucky. I can't remember the first time my Papaw (grandfather) put me in front of him on his horse. I just remember always wanting to be up there. I gradually got big enough to ride behind and then he bought me my first pony with the unfortunate name of Dick. His behavior however did not resemble his name. He was an excellent first pony who loved to run and I loved to let him. I eventually graduated to my own horse I guess around the age of 10 or 11. I'll never forget her. She was a strawberry roan and she would do anything I wanted. She would stand for hours and let me brush her and braid her mane.
FOTH: What do you remember about the first time you saw a live horse race?
GR: I don't remember the exact first time I was at a race track. It was probably Keeneland. But I do remember the first time I realized that horse racing existed. It was the day Secretariat won the Derby. I new that day I wanted to ride races. I didn't at the time realize that women weren't exactly welcome. I never crossed my mind that women couldn't ride as well as men or that anyone would think so. Steve Cauthen was a big hero to me because he was so young and riding really big races. Not long after this Peggy Columbia and Pam Donovan (hope it is spelled right-gina) were riding around the area. When I saw women riding I was even more determined to do it.
FOTH: What event or events led to you becoming a jockey and what did you parents think about you wanting to become a jockey?
GR: My family thought I was crazy. Both of my parents have college degrees. My mom has a Masters in Education and my father a PhD in Psychology. When I was in High School there was a school at the Kentucky Horse Park that taught people how to work with horses. I took this class as my elective and did academic classes in the afternoon. My teacher Fran Horn thought I might have the ability to ride and got me a job galloping with John T. Ward at Keeneland. I eventually went to the training center in Lexington and got a job with Lawrence Hughs. Lawrence helped me get my license to ride. I rode my first race a Latonia Racetrack on December 21, 1980. I was only 18 years old.
FOTH: How long did you ride for and what led to you retiring and when you rode in your last race did you know at the time it was your last race?
GR: I finally left the horses completely in 1994. I never was a big time rider. I always had to gallop horses to supplement my income. So basically I never made much money. I left because I was in my early thirties and knew my body was wearing out. I just couldn't ride the way I wanted too. Of my injuries two were pretty bad. I broke my pelvis on two different occasions. The first one I got over fairly quick but the second took my quite a few months. My pelvis was shattered when a two year old got scared and fell over with me. She pinned my leg under her and before I could get loose she rolled over. The doctor told me not to ride anymore because the injury to my tail bone would send the pressure to my spinal cord. I of course did not listen. Yes I knew it was my last race because classes at the University of Kentucky were getting ready to start and I did not ride during the school year. I rode a friends horse at River Downs.
FOTH: What tracks did you ride at in your career and did you have a favorite racetrack or a track you didn't like?
GR: I rode at Latonia, River Downs, Beulah Park, Keeneland, Churchhill Downs, Ellis Park, Delaware Park, Philly Park, Garden State Park, Atlantic City, a couple of races at Penn National, Thistle Downs, and Charlestown but this three were not regular haunts. I'm not sure what my favorite was. I loved Keeneland because it is beautiful and it is home. But I never rode the caliber of horse that wins at Keeneland. As far as racing luck Churchhill, River Downs, and Atlantic City were always good to me. I liked the night racing at Atlantic City. I hated the drive from Delaware Park and back.
FOTH: Do you think you were treated pretty fairly as a jockey when you were riding?
GR: Depends on who was doing the treating. Some guys were real jerks and did not mind putting you in danger if they could. Other guys did not think anything about riding with women. I think it is harder for women to get mounts. I know many times I heard trainers say something like "that girl rode a terrible race for me, I'll never ride another girl." But you never heard "that boy rode a terrible race for me I'll never ride another boy." If one of us a bad race or if the trainer just wanted to blame a lose on having a girl rider we all kinda suffered for it. I never felt any stewards or officials treated me different. Maybe I was lucky but most of the women I rode with were supportive of each other.
FOTH: What injuries did you get during your career and what was the worst one?
GR: I broke 3 metatarsals in my right foot, I broke a collarbone, I broke my pelvis on two different occasions resulting in 5 fractures total. I broke a rib. I think I had a concussion but I never went to the doc for an x-ray.
FOTH: When you were riding what was the best thing and worst thing about being a jockey?
GR: Best thing about being a jockey is riding races, period. The competition, the adrenaline, the pure otherworld experience of being in tune with a horse that is in tune with you. The worst would be sleet and rain while riding the last race at night. Winter is rough. We didn't have the new thin and warm layers that are available now. Finding gloves thin enough to gallop in and warm enough to keep your fingers from freezing was always a major challenge. Plus putting your feet into steel irons on single digit degree mornings just plain hurt.
FOTH: Did you ever have any trainers not ride you because you were a female rider?
GR: Yes of course.
FOTH: Did you ever bring in a 99-1 shot or more in your career?
GR: Yes more than once. Most of the horses I rode were ones that nobody else wanted much. I rode a horse for Betty Moran (Shelley's Mom) that paid something like $200. The owner gave me a pretty good tip and Betty gave me a Jack Russell puppy.
FOTH: If a young girl wanted to become a jockey what advice would you give her?
GR: Hang tough, smile and always appear positive (whether you want to or not), always talk to trainers whether they have 1 horse or a hundred and never think you know enough about riding.
FOTH: What did you end up doing after you retired from riding?
GR: I went to college at the University of Kentucky and go a degree in English with a minor in Philosophy. I earned a MA in Philosophy at Kansas University and was working on my dissertation for my PhD went my partner and I adopted children. I did not finish my doctorate. After a year of unemployment I went back to school and earned a nursing degree. I am now an RN at a hospital in Kansas. You can teach an old dog new tricks.
FOTH: Do you think the sport will ever see another horse win the Triple Crown?
GR: I really don't have faith in that anymore. I used to think it would happen but it has been so long now.
FOTH: Did you ever have any problems with your weight when you riding?
GR: I had trouble when I had the triple bug. After I lost the bug completely I was almost too little. I remember my valet at Churchill Downs trying to get me to eat candy bars.
FOTH: If you could turn back time, would you do anything differently during your time riding?
GR: I think I would be better at selling myself now than I was then. I just didn't have that kind of savy. I think I was a pretty good rider but not a very good talker.
FOTH: What was the thrill like of winning a race and getting your picture taken in the winner's circle?
GR: There's nothing like that in the world. If someone could bottle that feeling and sell it they would be filthy rich. It's a high that stays with you and makes you want to keep going even on the really bad days.
FOTH: When you were riding take me through what you did in a typical day.
GR: I got up early and galloped horses. I had regular horses I galloped for money and horses I got on so I could ride them. When that was done I either went to the Jocks room were I was at or drove to the race track where I was riding. If it was night racing I would catch a nap and then go ride. Days were long anyway you stacked them.
FOTH: Do you think their will ever come a day when female riders get the same respect as male riders?
GR: Right about the same time women get the respect men get period. Maybe for two generations down the rode. But honestly men in anything tend to be thought more highly of than women.
FOTH: Did you have anybody teach you how to ride and how long did it take for you in your eyes to really get it as far as riding goes?
GR: A guy named David Frye taught me a lot about riding. As far as race riding goes I just watched those riders I admired and tried to see what they did. I think that about the five year mark things just felt natural. Like I didn't have to think much and could just read a horse or see how a race might shape up.
FOTH: When you prepared for a race, what did you do?
GR: Not much really. I'd look at the form to see how horses in the race usually ran (ie speed or laid off the pace. If I didn't know my horse I'd study its form too. I tried to have something to eat if possible.
FOTH: Give me a couple funny jockey stories.
GR: One Christmas Eve at Latonia the track sent down champagne for us to have after the races. Since some of the women were done early we let them open the champagne (which we were not supposed to do). The Stewards came to the women's room to wish us merry Christmas and
we had just taken the wire off the bottle. We just set the bottle on the table and hoped they would not notice. While we were talking to them the cork popped off into the air. In my first race this jock was harassing me and came up next to me and hit my horse over the head and said keep the expletive deleted straight. When the Stewards called me and asked me what happened I told them verbatim the exact words he used. Every person in the room was stunned. They let me know afterwards I probably should have edited those words.
FOTH: When you one your first race did the jocks get you good after the race and did you know it was coming and did you ever get to returnthe favor?
GR: I won my first two races back to back at River Downs. I had to
wash my hair about three times to get the oil and eggs completely out of it. I loved to help initiate other jocks especially the women. The camaraderie is a great feeling. So yeah I three a few eggs and nasty tack water myself.
FOTH: Gina I am out of questions. 2 thumbs up for doing this interview for my site any last words the floor is yours.
GR: Thanks for the interview Chris.
Back to our main page