Jody Ray Gordon is a retired jockey who my friend Sandy put me in touch with and emailed her some questions to answer and here is her story:
FOTH: Where were you born, and what were all the states you grew up in?
JRG: I grew up in South Plainfield NJ. At 10 we moved to FL. for a year ( the best year of my life) Then my parents got divorced & we had to move back.
FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up (e.g., shy, tomboy, outspoken, class clown, most liked etc.), and what size family did you come from?
JRG: TOMBOY . I had one younger brother. His passion was minibikes.
FOTH: What was it that started a love of the horses in your heart, and at what age? At what age were you first exposed to the racing industry? Were any family members on the track before you, and if so, did they help you get established?
JRG: Starting at age 6 my Dad took me pony riding every Sat. morning after I watched FURY on TV. I saw the races for the first time at Calder I was 19. Someone took me to the backside where we climbed on the trainers tower. The thunder of the hooves, the color, the action, I was hooked at first sight. No, family members were ever involved with horses.
FOTH: What do you remember about the first time you saw a live horse race and where was it?
JRG: I remember thinking, I can do that! Calder Race Course. 1972
FOTH: What was your first job on the racetrack, and what track was it at? What do you remember about the experience?
JRG: My 1st job was on FDD Farm breaking yearlin's for Bryant Webb. It was hard work but I lived to wake up the next day to go. After 3 weeks on the farm I was taken to the track to learn the older horses. I worked for Bryant Webb for 8 years. All the girl jocks were always in & out of the barn as WEBB rode them all. I was just a quiet green exercise girl watching history unfold before my very eyes.
FOTH: What experience inspired you to give serious consideration to becoming a professional female jockey in a male dominated sport?
JRG: Many years later ( about 15 years) Someone bet me to do it. So by then I had been galloping for a long time. The starter Jim Parrish OK'd me & the head steward Mickey Sample signed my papers & I was on the overnite.
FOTH: Who all would you give credit to as the source of your so called, "leg up" into racing?
JRG: Lonnie Ray started me by taking me to the track for the first time. Then he took me to all the bush tracks ( I have a pic on that site also) I rode some & won a few but I thought I was to green so I left. Then upon returning to FL. Bryant Webb hired me taught me the old school way of handling a thoroughbred while astride. I never worked on the ground.
FOTH: Did anybody teach you how to ride, or did you learn a lot on your own, or was it a combination of both?
JRG: I had ridden my entire life. The thoroughbreds were a challenge tho. I was very lucky to get to work with top notch hands as Bryant Webb only employed the best gallop boys. Back then many were real cowboys.
FOTH: Tell me what you remember about your 1st race.
JRG: WHERES THE SPEED? After working so many horses in the morning mostly breaking on top. My first horse was so slo or at least it seemed that way.
FOTH: Tell us all about your 1st win. Was it an incredible experience?
JRG: Yes! it was my 10th mount. Bill Strange @ FLRT put me on a horse called LOUJAT. The horse had won 15+ races lifetime He was 3/5 morning line. My main competition in the race was SAGELY ( also a 20+ race winner). The leading rider Les Hulet was aboard him they were 9/5 morning line. Bill Strange told me stay away from Sagely cause if u get in a head & head duel with him down the lane Sagely can beat Loujat & Les Hulet (leading rider) will out ride you. Sagely & Hulet were a savvy duo & went out to win every time. Mr. Strange had Sagely for many wins till someone claimed him so he knew Sagely well. He told me lay bac off him till the 70 yd. pole then run by. Just hav momentum & get past. Believe it or not I followed the instructions to a T & Beat Sagely a 1/2 length.
FOTH: How long did you end up riding for, beginning when and where, and concluding when and where?
JRG: I just rode for about 5-6 years. TBD all winter & FLRT spring summer & fall. I started at FLRT & ended there. I did quit 1x & was gallopin' an ole mare for Wes Csadzac. She felt like such a winner to me but never got close. I finally asked Wes if i could ride her. I had been off about a year.He said yes I had to do 22 in my 1 lb saddle. She won ez & when I got the pic back I was shocked at how big I looked on her back as she was just a small mare. Talk about thunder this. I didn't ride again after that, still no interest. I didn't even want to ride her back.
FOTH: What led to you retiring? When you rode your last race, did you know at that time that it was your last race? Do you still have any of your tack?
JRG: I got sour of the 7 day grind back then in order to ride 4 you had to gallop 10 a day everyday. I sold all my tack for 50$ to Liz Lundberg an aspiring bug girl. Wished her the best of luck. Took an assistant job for Bill Lisi. That lasted about 3 years by then I was really sour. I was struck in the head while riding the pony by one of our babies while he was going to the gate. After I got stitched up I just left. Went back home to NJ I was 39 got married to a hometown boy ( union plumber pipefitter) who doesn't even know what a horse is & in the spring @ 40 yrs. old I had my first baby. I went back to galloping @ MP for the next 16 yrs. NOW its time for a break.
FOTH: During the time period that you rode, do you think that you were treated fairly by male trainers, owners, and other male jockeys? If not, could you elaborate on a few circumstances and what you came to believe was the biggest stumbling block for them, in their viewing you on a professional level, and treating you with the same respect as your male counterpart?
JRG: It was what it was. Some good people some jerks. I always got on well with all the room. It was a small track( FLRT) most were friends. No stumbling blocks come to mind. I had a few live people who rode me @ FLRT & a few @ TBD so I was happy to win when I did. I never even had an agent. I could care less.
FOTH: What would you classify as your best and worst experience as a jockey?
JRG: My best was when I shipped to Fort Erie on a horse named SHADDY I for trainer KEN SMITH . The race was a 1&5/8 mile. I went rite to the lead slowed down the pace to where I could swear my horses back legs were in a jog. As I looked around all the other riders were strangling their horses to stay behind me. At the 3/8 pole they came to me & I let them. At the 1/4 pole I asked little SHADDY ( who was no bigger then a large pony) & he took off like a jet. For an EZ win. My worst was when I had to kick some guys butt at TBD cause he whipped me with his stick. It happened at the scales in front of God & the world I was embarrassed I let myself sink so low that I would make a spectacle of myself. HARTACK was a first year steward then. He made the other guy who hit me pac his tack. It took a while to live that down. It took 2 valets to pull me off him.
FOTH: If a young girl came to you, wanting to become a jockey, how would you instruct her to proceed? Are you mentoring young ladies now, be it your own children, or maybe through electronic communications with girls that have attended schools like, Frankie Lovato's Jockey Camp?
JRG: I have seen many young bug girls come up. I don't say anything to them to many people or in their heads as it is. Some shine some don't. The ones that don't I just try to be very kind to.
FOTH: Do you think that a female rider will ever win all three of the Triple Crown races consecutively?
JRG: Well, first we need a horse capable of this feat. The girl riders of today are in a league of their own allot of true talent out there with the top agents vying for their book. They are now as far as I am concerned on equal terms with the men. A lot of the girls are finishing just as well if not better then the boys. They r making good decisions as to where to place their horses & when to move them. Its all just getting better & better for women.
FOTH: What are your thoughts on what Pimlico did last year (May 14, 2010) with the "retired female rider" Lady Legend's Race?
JRG: I think the Novelty Races are good for the tracks cause they bring out the families. I did ride in The Amateur Race here @ Monmouth & I was shocked at how many little kids were there with their moms. The saddling area was 5 deep. They wanted our goggles sign their shirts it was a real hoot. I love to see the track full of people. It makes my heart happy.
FOTH: If you could change a few things about the professional sport of horse racing, what changes would you make?
JRG: NO MEDS! More like Europe. Horses should run out of the feed tub so all have the same shot at winning. And a sore horse wont run cause he wont pass the AM vet check. If a horse bleeds send him to the farm don't put him on meds & run next week. In FLRT when I rode there was NO BUTE in NY then. The horses were allot tougher to ride luggin' in & out depending on what lead they were on or what part of the body was sore. The times were slower & I don't remember allot of breakdowns. Clippin' heels etc resulted in most spills.
FOTH: Looking back over your career, was becoming a jockey easier or harder then you thought it was going to be? What obstacles did you have to overcome, and over what span of time?
JRG: It was EZ to bad I put off doing it for so long. Their were no real obstacles. If u could ride u rode. When u rode if u could ride u won. It was as simple as that.
FOTH: Can you elaborate on any of the spills you've been in during races? What injuries did you incur throughout your career, and what was the worst one?
JRG: Never even had a spill in a race. I had a horse stumble all the way down leaving the gate. I got up & shook off the dirt. When I rode there was no bute in NY. So most horses just stopped running. Once i felt a horse take a bad step at the 1/16 pole I took a hold & had her outside & pulled up in 3 strides. She was vanned off. Because i started late i had alot of experience from working horses. So I was always concious of where I was at & where my fellow riders were at also. At FLRT the boys were always fair with the girls, bac then. Like i said it was a small family track, all knew & helped each other. This is hard to believe by todays standards but FLRT was a family place BACK THEN ( but all things change). Many excellent horseman have come from FLRT. I have to say this cause its too funny. When they interviewed Bruce Alexander who tied with Todd Pletcher for leading trainer last season @ MP. He said if he started out with the horses I started out with he'd be broke by now. No truer words were ever spoken. Good Luck all you upstate guys, your all doing great down here at the races LOL.
FOTH: What are you doing with your life nowadays, after retirement, and what part do racing or racehorses play in your life after-the-fact?
JRG: I galloped at Monmouth Pk. But at 58 I think I will take this summer off as my only son is headed to college & want to spend the time with him. THE ONLY PROBLEM WITH THE RACETRACK IS IT STAYS YOUNG & WE GET OLD. It seems to be the only place where other then your own family where you kno people till they die. Its still very hard for me to leave only the power of my son could make me leave the cow path I hav walked for what seems to be my entire life.
FOTH: I am out of questions, but offer a "thumbs up" to you for doing this interview. The floor is yours now, and I'd love to hear any last thoughts or stories you might like to share with racing enthusiasts everywhere. Any photos or videos you'd like to share with us would be greatly appreciated as well! Thanks again for your time and in sharing a private look inside your life.
JRG: Thank you for putting this together I have been in touch with many dear friends & talked of days gone by. Its been a pleasure,