Ursula Romero Behiel

Ursula Romero Behiel is a jockey who rode from 1987 till 1991 and a friend Sandy put me in touch with her and I emailed her some questions to answer and here is what she said to them and when she was riding her name was Ursula Romero.

FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up and did you have a love for sports at a young age?

UR: When I was growing up, all I cared about was riding horses. I was very competitive and did not care who I was riding with as long as I could be with my horses. I started out showing Arabian horses, and my dad bought me a Black Arabian Stallion when I was 11 years old! I showed him on the National circuit and loved every minute of riding him and caring for my family's string of show horses.

FOTH: Do you think you were a typical girl growing up?

UR: No, I was not typical because I spent my afternoons and weekends riding and cleaning stalls! I did not participate in any High School sports activities because I dedicated all my extra time outside of school to my horses. I did not have any boyfriends because they could not compete with my Black Stallion!

FOTH: What led you to getting into the sport of horse racing and what did you think of horse racing the first time you saw a live horse race?

UR: I competed on the National Arabian Horse circuit until age 18. When I was in college at the University of New Mexico, I took a class called The History of Horse Racing. We took a field trip to the race track in Albuquerque. It was the first time I had been to the backside of the race track. When I was there and saw all the jockeys exercising the race horses, I knew right then and there that I had to become a jockey! That morning, I saw one of my friend's fathers who was a jock's agent. I did not stop calling him until he got me a job with a trainer at the track!

FOTH: Take me through the events that led to you becoming a jockey?

UR: When I finally got my first job at the track, I was very disappointed that they had me grooming and tacking up horses. I kept telling the trainer that I was a National Top Ten rider and I need to be riding the horses instead of grooming them! All the trainers kept trying to tell me that girls should not ride race horses and that I was too pretty and feminine to ride. That made me want it even more! Finally after weeks of pestering the trainer, he finally let me start galloping...........wow!!! I really thought I was an excellent rider until I got on my very first Thoroughbred! It was like riding a freight train.......so much power!! I quickly realized that I needed to learn how to ride all over again! I worked very hard and started riding races after a few months! It took me 14 races to win my first and I was hooked!!

FOTH: How many years did you ride for?

UR: I rode for about 4 years from 1989-1991.

FOTH: What are some of the good things you remember about being a jockey and some of the not so great things?

UR: When I was riding, I felt like I had the very best job in the world! Getting paid to ride horses was the best thing ever! I loved galloping on the track in the cold early mornings....it was so peaceful hearing the hoofbeats and the steady rhymithic breath coming from the powerful lungs of the horses. I loved walking out to the paddock in my silks and getting the leg up.......the post parade was so cool!!! My favorite part was the starting gate!! The adrenaline was amazing........nothing like it!!! I still have dreams about it all 20 years later. I miss it so much!! I loved giving interviews and signing autographs for the fans!

The not so great part was keeping my weight so low. I am naturally about 120 pounds, but during my apprentice years, it was a constant issue to keep my weight 15 lbs below my natural body weight......however, it was worth the sacrifice!!

FOTH: When you first had your jockey license in your hand, what was going through your mind?

UR: I was always very goal oriented. It was my goal to get that license so when I finally had it, I just was in a hurry to ride and win races! Looking back, the coolest part is that I got my license at the same track and at the same time as Garrett Gomez! I am so thrilled that he has come so far from when we both started together in Albuquerque!!

FOTH: Do you feel you were treated pretty good as a rider when you were a jockey?

UR: Yes, I was treated great by the other riders. I did not act like I was tougher than them, and I looked to them for guidance. Therefore, they protected me and treated me like their little sister. I was not treated very fairly by the owners and trainers. It was so tough to get decent mounts. I went from New Mexico to Northern California. I finally met an Agent from the East Coast who took me back to Rockingham Park. It was there that I finally had a shot to ride some better horses and win races on a regular basis. It is ironic that girls were treated more fairly by the owners and trainers on the East Coast than the West Coast!

FOTH: Tell me a funny jockey story that you remember and still brings a smile to your face?

UR: Winning my first race at Golden Gate Fields makes me smile. I always smile when I look at my win pictures and remember all the fun horses that I was privileged to ride! Golden Gate fields had me do some advertising photo shoots with some of the other jockeys. Looking at those goofy pictures makes me laugh!

FOTH: What are your thoughts on Zenyatta's big run as a horse? Were you surprised that she finally lost?

UR: She is truly amazing! I cry with awe and respect for her when I see her run!! I am not really surprised that she lost. 19 in a row is truly amazing and I was very nervous for this last race of hers. I am just so happy that she did not break down. During the entire race I was thinking about Ruffian, and I was heartbroken that Zenyatta ran second, but I was so grateful that she finished safe and sound. She is so amazing!!

FOTH: Tell me what you remember about your first race and were you nervous at all?

UR: I don’t really remember my very first race........I do remember my first win. I do not remember ever being nervous. I was always so excited to ride.............I loved the adrenaline!!!

FOTH: What do you remember about your 1st win and did the jockeys get you good after the race?

UR: My first win was in Raton, New Mexico on a horse who was a long shot! I did not really know the horse or the owner, but when I went to meet the owner after my shower, he shook my hand and took out a huge wad of cash........all $100 bills. He was going through his bank roll, and I thought for sure he was going to give me a couple of Bennies. He handed me a TEN dollar bill!! I could not believe it!! However, that did not ruin the thrill of victory.....I was still on cloud 9!!

The other jockeys were good to me! They did not "paint" me like they did to most riders breaking their maiden! After I won my first race Golden Gate Fields, the jockey's got me with cold water...........that is about it. They were all like the older brothers I never had, and they looked out for me!

FOTH: For somebody who would like to become a jockey, what advice would you give them?

UR: Be ready for lots of hard work, and keep your nose clean!!

FOTH: Will another female, perhaps, Anna Napravnik or Chantal Sutherland ever win a triple crown race one day?

UR: I think it is possible!!

FOTH: Do you think racetracks need slots to survive?

UR: NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

FOTH: Do you ever had problems with your weight?

UR: Yes, I could not eat much while I was riding. I did not flip on a regular basis, but had to sometimes. I sat in the hot box sometimes, but did not have to live in it like most of the guys did at the time. I took lasix a few times, but again, not all the time. I know what it feels like to have an eating disorder, but I was not completely bulimic or anorexic. This was the hardest part of riding for me.

My Agent did not know that I had to struggle. I met him at Dunkin' Donuts every morning, but could never had a donut or coffee! One morning, when I did not have to ride in the afternoon, I drove to the next town so that no one would recognize me. I went to a Dunkin 'Donuts and got a dozen donuts.........ate them all, then flipped. I only did that once, but will never forget what it felt like to deprive myself!

FOTH: What tracks did you ride at and did you have a favorite?

UR: New Mexico: Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Raton
Texas: El Paso
New Hampshire: Rockingham Park and Suffolk Downs in Boston
California: Golden Gate Fields, Pleasanton, Northern California Fair Circuit

My favorite was riding on the turf at Golden Gate Fields! It was like riding in heaven! So, quiet, green and peaceful!!! ........LOVED IT!!! The biggest race I rode in was on the turf there......I finished second in a Handicap race for Noel Hickey........even though I finished second, it was a huge thrill!!!!

FOTH: Do you still follow the sport much and do you ever still go to racetracks at all?

UR:I live in Pleasanton and go to the Fair with friends sometimes. I never watch TV, but I sit in front of the TV all day on the First Saturday in May and watch the Breeder's Cup when I can........specially this year! I took my daughter to the Kentucky Derby in 2006 when we watched Barbaro win! I do not really follow the sport on a regular basis. A good friend of mine got Martin Garcia started riding here in Northern California. I keep track of him through her, but that is about it!

FOTH: What are you up to these days?

UR: Since I gave up a full academic scholarship at the University of New Mexico to ride full time, I went back to school to finish my degree after I quit riding in 1991. I got married and have a beautiful 16 year old daughter and a very athletic and competitive 12 year old son! My daughter rides and competes in Eventing. My son is a football and baseball player and he reminds me so much of myself when I was growing up with his competitive nature. I work full time selling Payroll Services and make a very good living to support my daughter's riding habit! When I am not working, I am taking my daughter to the barn and watching my son play his sports. I hope to compete in Eventing some day after my daughter graduates from High School. It is all about her now!!

FOTH: What did you think of what Pimlicio did last year putting together a retired female jockey race with all retired female jockeys?

UR: I think it is great! I wish I would have been invited to ride in it!!!

FOTH: Tell me something that might surprise people that you like to do.

UR: People are always surprised to learn that I was a jockey! They love hearing my stories! In fact, I have been invited to speak at Rotary Meeting and other business meetings on Horse Racing........people find it fascinating!

FOTH: I am out of questions. Thumbs up for the interview and any last words, the floor is yours?

UR: Being a jockey was such an amazing experience. Although it was a rough life, I feel so fortunate that I was able to have that experience! So many parents today focus on college as the only path for their kids. I am grateful to my parents that they gave me their blessing to quit school (and give up my scholarship) to pursue my riding career...........I would not change that path for anything!!! I know that my experience gave me the confidence to reach my professional goals and has shaped me into the strong person that I am today!

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