Rachel Gray is currently riding down at Charlestown Racetrack and this is her story:
FOTH: Where were you born and where did grow up?
RG: I am from Fauquier and Loudoun County in Northern VA. It's a pretty active horse community.
FOTH: Where did you start to gallop horses and who helped you along the way?
RG: The Middleburg training center is where I first started galloping, and breaking babies with the good olé boys, I'm lucky I learned from some of the best of the older generations before they all retired. Mike Jenkins was a huge influence on how to wrap your legs around a baby and get into their brain. Rick Smallwood and I worked together when I was about 19, and then he was my Valet at CT...lol, it made a full circle. I learned the old school way, I wasn't allowed to gallop any older horses till I could successfully turn over a string of two YOs, which was…
FOTH: How long did you exercise horse before you actually became a jockey and who helped you along the way and who taught you how to ride?
RG: I galloped for a few years, not really even thinking about the flat track career because I was steeplechasing. It was the best way to learn; too many people don't have a clue on how to really get a horse right because they didn't learn from the ground up with the babies...
FOTH: What did your parents think when you told them you wanted to become a jockey?
RG: I grew up around horses, but swore I’d never do it for a living, my dad was a Huntsman for Orange County and Piedmont Hunts, so he was always on a horse, and mom legged up the TBs at Locust Hill, Maggie Bryants Farm. She's an extremely successful owner in the Steeplechase Circuit as well as the flat track...mom never raced, nor dad...but I was always going to the point to points as a kid...I grew up getting trekked around from barn to barn and hated it, we were poor, tired and bored all the time...and always getting into trouble...mom and dad divorced when I was three so mom had a hard time supporting three kids in the horse profession, which is why I said I’d never do it...lol.
FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up? Were you a tomboy like most of the other female riders I have interviewed over the years?
RG: I was definitely a tomboy. I was skinning horses and cows at the kennels with dad when I got off the school bus and I always wanted to be the fastest girl at track practice, which I did most of the time, and I always wanted to prove that I could work just as hard around the kennels with dad. I think it was more of a feeling of making my family proud rather than the sheer fact of winning. I was always seeking approval from dad since I didn't get to see him very much, and he was a very popular and respected horseman and worker in the community, which was a HUGE factor in why I got my license, I wanted to prove that he could be proud of me, despite all my screw ups. I was a partier and had a child way too soon in life so that made me even more set on proving that I could still ride a race afterwards, which is the next answer to your question.
FOTH: Ok so you rode 5 races in 2005 and then you didn’t ride any races after that till 2009. What was the reason for that and how tough was it getting back to riding in races 4 years later?
RG: I always felt that I cheated myself by not being able to pursue a full riding career, because I had a child too soon. I raced in the steeplechase circuit for a season of two, just before I had a child, and I was just starting to get into the ARCA circuit, won a race at Monmouth and that is the point that I knew I wanted to become a professional, but I weighed about 135 pounds and not long after that I got pregnant.
So I had a baby and then went back to work for Piedmont hunt to get my feet under me, I took off the track horses and made them into hunters and met my husband, who became the huntsman so I stayed there for a couple years, but hated it so I got a job here and there at the track and for a couple of steeplechasing barns, just to stay in the racing industry and then decided to go for my jocks license for the first time, I needed to branch out and was dropping weight anyways. At that point in time I was doing it for the wrong reasons though. I wanted to prove to myself that I could. I didn't need the money, I just wanted to get out from under my husband’s thumb, which didn't work, I had another child and he told me that I had to stay outta that career, which explains the gaps in my form.
So fast forward about seven years to now and I've been divorced a year and the first thing I did was quit my job at the hunt and get my license renewed, with three kids in tow. I was broke but liberated and I wasn't going to ever let a person tell me again that I couldn't do what I wanted. The most important thing in life, especially with kids watching you, is to always square your shoulders and do what you know in your gut to be the true passion you have. I will never let my girls tell me that they can’t do something because it's a man’s world. Of my son say it’s too hard to accomplish. If all else fails in my life I have learned the most important thing is resiliency, and tough skin. I may not be a Rosie in the industry, but I put my due time in and have supported a passion that I have worked at enough to call a profession, invaluable to my kids, especially as a single mom. Three kids and a career are hard no matter what the career is. Each break I had in between racing only made me better when I came back because I was never satisfied with it.
FOTH: What tracks have you rode at so far in your career?
RG: I have been lucky enough to ride at MD, Delaware, Monmouth, PA, Colonial, and of course WV, I love the turf I wish I could be at a track that had the turf but with the kids I can’t really travel, and CT is close...and I love it.
FOTH: Now your currently riding at Charlestown Racetrack. What is it like riding there and are the turns as quick as I hear from other riders?
RG: The turns are definitely tighter, but if you can hustle outta the gate there and hold your own you can go anywhere. It’s a fast track, and you can’t be bothered with fast breaks. Sometimes it does get a bit sloppy, but I love it. The jocks room is pretty close, we all get a little testy with certain things, but I'm not sure that it’s any different than any other room. These boys are workers and if you walk in there not putting your time in at the morning work they know it, it’s a working man’s track, not glamorous at all. They are not too incredibly keen on girl riders and the loyalty is hit or miss, but again it's probably like that everywhere. I've always heard I should go to MD, they're more likely to use a girl jock, but I like the CT track. The speed is better there than anywhere to me and four and a half is my favorite race.
FOTH: Do you feel that jockeys are underappreciated in the world of sports?
RG: I personally feel that I've had to hustle harder and prove more because I'm thirty two now and have had a few gaps and I have three kids, but when you aren't too lazy to hustle a donkey all the way through to the wire then it gets a lot of small barn business, which is how I make my checks. I'm a worker, and a paychecks a paycheck, I'm not the type to pick my rides.
FOTH: How do you deal with riding in the cold?
RG: Riding in the winter at CT was hard because I wasn't able to sweat a lot in the morning, but you really get your foot in the door with some of the big barns where the other jocks don't want to go out in the cold. I bundle up and after the first horse you don't realize how cold it is anyways. Racing at night isn't too bad, honestly I don't really even think about it, I’d rather not...ha ha.
Since I’m 5'4 and naturally about 120, and with the ten pound bug, I do a lot of sweating, and I live off of a lot of grapefruit and apples and Tilapia.
FOTH: Take me through a typical race day for you.
RG: I work in the morning at the track, go straight to the gym, run and sweat for about an hour, then sit in the box with a suit on for a while; thirty or so minutes and then I go pick up the kids from school in VA and get them sorted for dinner and bed and then get back to the jocks room. It’s not very exciting but if I break away from that schedule then I’ll eat or drink too much.
I have a great time back there with Katie, she and I were the only girls left there full time, and she has a son. We are like sisters separated at birth, which has been a huge support system for me. She is a workhorse and I love her to pieces, when were in the same race I love breaking out next to her, there is definitely a real feeling of triumph, knowing that we can still hold our own even after kids, not really anything to do with just being a girl...
FOTH: When you are in the jock’s room, how do you prepare to ride in a race?
RG: I usually study the form and watch replays on my horses while I am sitting in the box at the gym, so when I get to the room I like to relax. I will play a game of pool or catch up with Katie and breathe for a minute to stay steady and not too wound up.
FOTH: Do you have any idea how long you would like to ride for or right now you have not even given it any thought? If some young girl came up to you and said she wanted to become a jockey, what advice would you give her?
RG: I will probably ride a bit longer, but as all things must come to an end. One I can’t make any legitimate money anymore ill hang it up. Gotta make sure that I can support the kiddos. Which leads me to my last answer, my daughter tells me all the time she's gonna be a jockey, and I tell her to go to school and become an owner lol, it's a tough life, man or woman, and it's hard on your body and family, but it's a talent, so if the talents there it’s a shame to waste it. Follow your heart, but only if you know you can be successful and not blindly driven by the glamour of it all, you'll see for yourself sooner than you think if you can make it or not. It’s a test of how morally and mentally tough you are. I’d be proud if my daughters or my son were successful in the industry. I would just be too scared to watch the process, because that is the dangerous and scary part to witness. I know too well what I put my body through and the mental knots that go on upstairs morally you get tested and I don't want to see my children go through it, but the other side is the most amazing accomplishment I have ever felt, which catapults into every other aspect of my life, and that is irreplaceable. It's a double edge sword, but I would like to see them go to school and find their own lot in life. As for a young girl that has a true quiet determination, I’d tell her to take a shot at it and time will tell if it's where she belongs.
FOTH: Rachel, thumbs up for doing this interview, any last words?
RG: Thanks for the interview and good luck with your website.
Unfortunately after I conducted this interview Rachel passed away. May she rest in peace.
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