Janice Blake-Baeza is a jockey I have known for over 10 years. I have interviewed her for my site before, but it has been awhile since her last interview, so I decided a new one was in order. Here is what she said to my questions I asked her:
FOTH: It has been awhile since our last interviewed, so thanks for doing this new one. Where are you currently riding?
JBB: Hi Chris. I'm glad to be here. Thank you for interviewing me. I'm currently riding at Aqueduct.
FOTH: I know you have done a few female jockey challenges at Parx and Hooiser Park. Have you done any others, and were you sad to see Hoosier Park stop doing them a few years back?
JBB: I have actually done a FJC every year since the first one I did in 2005 at Hoosier Park. Yes, I was saddened to see the HP FJC end. I believe a FJC increases attendance and interest.
FOTH: I got to know you when you were riding at Garden State Park. What are some memories you have of that track, and have you ever gone by there since it was torn down?
JBB: I loved riding at GSP and racing at night. I did well there, so I have fond memories of it. The grass course was one of the best around.
I remember Gabor, the Jock's Room Attendant, dressing up in a sombrero, a jock's strap, and cowboy boots, carrying a guitar and singing songs around Halloween time. Also, Rocco Gabriella got in on the tunes, and they were both running around the Jock's Room singing and carrying on. Rocco has a phenomenal voice, and is cute, too. He told a story about when he was riding at GSP. He was on a slow horse in the back and came around the turn, turning for home. He saw some of his friends on the rail and shouted, "Which way did they go?" Rocco was/ is really funny.
I also seem to remember a certain Security Guard, who shall remain nameless (hint, hint), that gave me a fake ticket for parking between the barns. I still have the ticket to prove it.
Willard and Glenn Thompson spring to mind. Sharon Huston. All the usual Jersey suspects were there. John Forbes with Pat McBurney, were in the back. The agents. It was a great big family.
Yes, I have been by there since it was torn down. Strange to think the whole race track was on that small piece of ground, and what we used to do there. It makes me think of when the dinosaurs and Indians were here before us. We have no idea what happened right where we are walking and living.
FOTH: Tell me what you are doing now on a typical day?
JBB: I am between jobs, as they say, and am studying Social Media and writing about horses. When racing resumes in another week at Aqueduct, I will be back hustling mounts.
FOTH: Is riding now still as fun for you as when you started out?
JBB: Absolutely. Even more so.
FOTH: For ow much longer would you like to ride, and when you retire, do you plan on staying involved in the sport whether it be as an ex-rider or trainer, etc?
JBB: I would like to ride as long as I am able. Time will tell. I will stay involved in some capacity.
FOTH: What has been your favorite track to ride so far, and has there been a track that you are not a fan of much, and is there any track that you would like to ride one day?
JBB: My favorite track to ride is Belmont. Belmont is what the race tracks must look like in heaven.
I'm not a fan of Charles Town, mostly because of the night racing and the sharp turns. I loved to ride at GSP at night, but that was a short meet. CT is all year long, and it gets old living that lifestyle year-in and year-out.
I would love to ride at Del Mar because it is by the ocean, and it was built by Bing Crosby and Friends.
FOTH: Do you like day racing or night racing, or do you like both pretty much the same?
JBB: I prefer day racing, but night racing is okay if it's a short meet like the Meadowlands and GSP were.
FOTH: Do you feel you have a certain riding style?
JBB: I feel like I am aggressive.
FOTH: Do you like riding more on the dirt or the turf, or do you like both pretty much equally?
JBB: Pretty much equal. They both have their strong points.
FOTH: Where do you see the sport of horse racing in say, 5 years, and in 10 years?
JBB: The more things change, the more they stay the same. If you read horse racing articles from the 70s through the 90s, the people then were saying and complaining as they are now, yet here we still are today. Life goes on. As long as there is money to be made, the game will continue, in some format.
FOTH: Do you think that most racetracks to survive now have to have slot revenue to help them, and if you were in charge of a racetrack, what are some things you would do to help promote the sport?
JBB: Yes, the slots are most welcome. I don't know that much about the entire workings of the political side, and what money comes from the State, and what goes on in the back-room deals, but I can see the evidence that the tracks that have the slots are surviving, and the ones that don't have them are struggling.
I would have more gimmicks, such as Female Jockey Challenges, a Meet-the-Jockeys day. I would make the jockeys more personable, like actors. I would have the jockeys promote merchandise, clothing, and drinks, like Vitamin Water. Say if you go into a 7-11, there would be a cutout of a jockey holding a Vitamin Water and saying how it helps rehydrate, or whatever the campaign would be. Race car drivers do it all the time. Why not jockeys?
I would have the race tracks get behind popular causes more and let everyone know they are doing something worthwhile for charity.
I would hire some amazing Marketing people from Chicago, where all good marketers live, move them out to NY and turn them loose to work their magic for the race track.
FOTH: Would you ever be on a reality TV show if asked, and why, or why not?
JBB: Maybe I would. It depends what else I was doing at the time, and how much money was offered. If it would over-compensate for the living of my life at the time, I could be persuaded to participate. We all know that "reality show" doesn't exactly mean that, exactly.
FOTH: Tell me a good funny jockey story that still brings a smile to your face these days?
JBB: I was a 10 pound bug riding at Tampa. I was in the middle of the Stretch in the middle of the pack, and my horse was stopping, going nowhere, so I started to practice-ride a little, switching sticks. My horse was tired and weaving. In addition, my body was weaving back and forth on top of my horse in the process of switching sticks, and here comes Dodie Duys flying up behind me, cursing me out for practice-riding in the middle of the Stretch, while she was still behind me on plenty of horse, trying to get by. I was just a ten pound bug, and my eyes were about THIS big to begin with. I thought Dodie was going to murder me when we got back to the Jock's Room.
Okay, so it's not that funny. But this is what passes for humor in a jock's world. I can laugh at it now, but it wasn't too funny back then.
FOTH: What has been the worst injury that you have ever had so far in your career?
JBB: I have a herniated disc between C4 and C5, and one that is compressed. They don't bother me at all. I got an MRI of my lower back once and the technician said he doesn't know how I'm walking. Most people with this much deterioration can barely walk. Whatever. The medicos are not used to dealing with jockeys, obviously.
I kept riding through my neck injury. I didn't know it was that bad until I had the MRI later. Then I had another one a few years after that one, and the disc showed no evidence of a herniation. As I said, whatever. On we go... I make sure my neck stays stretched and supple. Stretching works miracles.
My neck injury occurred in one race when a jock outside of me hit his horse right-handed, and his horse crossed its legs, tripped and fell right in front of my horse, Wedding Bell Blues. There is no chance of avoiding a 1000 pound horse lying in front of you going that fast, unless your horse decides to jump, which mine didn't. That horse was later banned off the race track because she did the same thing again in her next race. Just running and plain fell down.
I landed face down in the dirt with my neck bent backwards. I woke up screaming in the ambulance. I screamed about 4 or 5 times in a row, and then I stopped. I don't know why. The EMT was drawing a clear liquid out of a bottle, so I asked him what he was going to do with that, and he said he was going to give it to me so I would wake up. I said no he wasn't because I was awake.
FOTH: Do you think there will ever be another Triple Crown horse in the sport of horse racing?
JBB: Yes, mine.
FOTH: When you are not doing horse related things what are some things you like to do? If there any other sports that you like and follow?
JBB: I enjoy reading, hanging out with my friends in the City, (NYC, for the uninitiated.), meeting interesting people that I connect with, playing with and enjoying my cat. She's like my daughter. I don't watch TV, or play video games.
I enjoy watching football and baseball. The men have better bodies in baseball. Basketball. Any sport, really, but I'm not THAT into them. Like, I could barely tell you any of the player's names, but I do enjoy watching the game itself.
Right now, I just started reading, "A Course in Miracles." It's really deep and takes a lot of concentration to understand it and put it into practice.
FOTH: Have you ever had any problems with your weight, and what are some foods that you typically eat in a day, and do you do anything special to stay in shape?
JBB: I have not had any appreciable problems with my weight. I do know how to flip if I have to. As a bug rider, it was tough keeping my weight down that much, so I learned many techniques to do that. I took Lasix a couple of times, but started getting cramps in my hands, so I stopped doing that. It's tough to keep yourself from eating when every cell in your body says you need to eat. I used to go on long bike rides in Tampa and purposefully not take any money with me, so I wouldn't be tempted to stop and buy something to eat. It's not so much the hunger, though, as it is the thirst.
I don't have the bug anymore, so it not such an issue now. The weights have been raised so I rarely think of my weight at all these days.
I hardly eat anything that has any fat in it. If I am hungry for carbs, I make sure to have some protein. When your body is craving carbs, eat protein. It helps to think of your body as a separate entity than yourself. It's easier to control that way. You treat it like a child and tell it no, it can't have that, not right now.
Do not go shopping when you are hungry. You will buy four different boxes of cookies and then proceed to eat them all on the way home from the store. Maintaining weight is most definitely a science and an art. You have to be motivated to keep your weight down and really almost "get-into" not eating. Almost like a little celebration that you didn't eat.
I get on horses in the morning and work out at the health club to stay fit. Mostly I do cardio when I work out. My strength is good enough already.
FOTH: Have you been recognized much outside the racetrack as a jockey?
JBB: Yes, frequently. People look at me and say they recognize my face. I tell them that that makes sense because I am actually kinda famous. I then sort of stare into space and walk away. LOL This happened last week in a grocery store.
FOTH: If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to become a jockey, what advice would you give her?
JBB: Go for it. Don't let anyone stop you. The only one who can ever stop you is yourself. We stop ourselves by listening to other people tell us what's best for us.
Listen to your feelings. Listen to your own heart, or intuition, and do that. It's all about how you FEEL, nothing else. If your feelings tell you to do it, then you do it. Forget the negative things people say to you. Walk away from them, quickly.
Search out and find people who inspire you, whoever they may be. Cling on to them and breathe some of their life force into yourself. We all need inspiration and acknowledgment. Keep these people close to you.
FOTH: What has been your favorite horse that you have ridden, and at which tracks did you ride this horse?
JBB: My first favorite is True Coyotie. I won three races on him when I was a bug. We had a beautiful relationship together. I rode him at Tampa Bay Downs. Thanks, True and Jason. :-) Thank you, Ernie, for my first winner.
My second favorite horse is Majestic Jazz, because he ran faster than the other horses in his races. I won on him at the Meadowlands. Thanks, Jazz and Mike. :-)
FOTH: Does riding in the cold or extreme heat bother you at all, and about cold weather, how do you mentally prepare to go ride out in a race when it is below freezing?
JBB: Nothing bothers me. It's not that bad. The attitude of weather is a mental construct and eventually it becomes mind over matter. I put as much attention on it as needs be. I simply prepare for the temperature, go out and ride the race. It's not pleasant riding in the frigid cold, but no one is forcing me to do this, so I accept it, perform my duties and shut up about it. Whining about how cold it is is not going to change the situation. If the prima donna jock doesn't want to ride in the cold, he can always take off his mounts for the day, and stay home where it's warm. There will be plenty of jockeys ready to ride his mounts in the cold.
FOTH: What was something funny you remember about the 2011 Female Jockey Challenge at Parx?
JBB: The funniest thing I remember was Don Smith, the Clerk of Scales, trying to weigh out 10 female jockeys before the race. Talk about bedlam! LOL
FOTH: (funny question of the interview) Do you miss riding at Parx, and harassing yours truly, like you did at Garden State Park, lol?
JBB: I mostly miss harassing you every chance I get.
FOTH: Janice, thumbs up for doing this new updated interview, and, any last words? The floor is yours.
JBB: As a woman, I am exceedingly grateful to be living in America and able to pursue my career as I see fit.
I am profoundly grateful to the splendid horses and trainers who have given me the opportunity to win races and make a living being a jockey. I truly feel special and blessed with the miraculous life I have been allowed to live.
Thank you, Chris, for having the passion and dedication to put this website together for us. You really do us a great honor with the care you take following our careers and putting us in the spotlight as you do. Many blessings to you.