Becky Cominsky is a retired jockey I know nothing about. She stumbled across our page and even though I knew nothing about her I asked if she wanted to be interview for our site. She agreed and I fired off an interview to her via email and here is what she said.
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
BC: I grew up in a very small rural town outside Columbus, Ohio.
FOTH: What type of kid were you when you were young? Are you close with your parents? Any brothers or sisters.
BC: I was a tomboy bigtime! I could outrun, out throw and beat any boys my age at armwrestling. I would go to Little League practice and sit on the playing field in protest because girls were not allowed to play at that time. My parents are deceased but we had a good relationship, I was the youngest of 7 children, 4 boys and 3 girls. For a long time I thought my father was cruel because he would not buy me a pony when I was growing up. He did buy me a "wonder horse" for X-mas one year when I was about 5 and my brother knocked it off the front porch with me on it. I suffered the first of "a few" broken collar bones from riding horses.
FOTH: What events led you to becoming a jockey? Anybody try to talk you out of it? What did your parents think of the idea?
BC: My parents used to drive by Darby Dan Farm outside Columbus on the way to my grandparent's home. I would ask him to stop so I could watch the horses being exercised. I announced to my parents at the age of 5 that I was not only going to ride for Darby Dan but I was also going to be a jockey. Some of the men at the racetrack tried to talk me out of riding but it went in one ear and out the other. When the time, came my parents were behind me 100%
FOTH: Did you gallop horses and stuff before becoming a jockey? What stuff were you taught?
BC: I was working in a clerical position when I was 19 and was very unhappy. I picked up a newspaper and saw an ad for "caretaker for horses". I called the number and the voice on the other end said "Darby Dan Farm", I nearly fainted! It took me a week to get in to see the trainer, Bob Moore, but I went without an appointment, found him and begged him for the job. I started as a groom but eventually Bob let me start breaking yearlings (I was very persistent)! I was the first of many women to ride for the farm. I learned how to gallop horses, teach them to break out of the gates and how to work them 1/4 of a mile. I became a professional rider working there, it gave me a great foundation.
FOTH: If you can tell us what you remember about your first race. How about your first win.
BC: My first race I was so nervous I couldn't get my stirrups adjusted where they felt comfortable to me. I didn't realize how slippery my nylon pants were going to be and I thought I was going to slide right off of Go Go Phil!. I had a vivid dream when I was a kid under the influence of gas at the dentist office. My first race was exactly the same as that dream right down to the color of the horse. Sitting waiting for the gates to open was a dejavu event for me. I never got to ride a winner before I hung up my boots to raise my daughter, I have no regrets though!
FOTH: What tracks did you ride at and did you have a favorite track and least favorite track?
BC: I started riding horses at Tampa Bay Downs, it was the first time I'd ever been to Florida and it was the coldest winter they had ever had. It was very difficult to get anyone to let me gallop and eventually I headed back to Ohio. I rode at Beulah Park (my hometown favorite) several seasons, went to River Downs (it was so hot and humid there I thought I would die), went to Thistledown in Cleveland, always thought that place looked like a prison, went to Rockingham Park before it burned down, loved the weather and the attitudes of the trainers, went to Fair Grounds in New Orleans for the winter and had a blast there and back around again.
FOTH: You rode many years ago, how was the treatment of female riders back then? Did it improve any at all?
BC: When I first went to the race track it was tough getting a horse to ride. Most of them were very tough horses in one way or another that nobody else wanted to get on. I would make a bet with the trainer that if I could ride the horse they would have to pay me and if I couldn't ride it they wouldn't have to pay me. It worked and after proving that I could handle anything they brought to me I had no problem getting horses to ride. There were lots of days when I would have trainers waiting at the out gate with a horse for me to gallop and I would jump off the one I just finished and get on the next. It couldn't have been any better for me at that time. I think if you could do the job the trainers didn't care if you were male or female. I know there are a lot more women riding today than when I started so the treatment must have improved. There are jerks in every line of work you go into and the racetrack is certainly no exception!
FOTH: What was your proudest moment as a jockey?
BC: I can't say I had one of those moments that sticks out as a jockey but as an exercise rider I will never forget going to the starting gates at Beulah the first year I rode there and Don the Starter would scream, yell and cuss at me because he thought I didn't belong there. When it came time for me to get my apprentice license I had to set an appointment with the stewards to come out of the gates to get approval for the license. I went to Don and ask him when I could do it and he told me that he would go to the stewards and tell them that I was as good at breaking out of the gates as anyone else on the track and I wouldn't have to set a time to do it. Also, I was riding for Bernie Flint and had to work a horse 3/4 of a mile in the fractions he gave me. After the work I came back to the barn and he told me to meet him in his office. I thought I'd done something wrong but instead he was shaking his finger in my face and yelling at me saying that was the best ride he'd ever seen and Don't let it go to your head!!. He turned and walked out the door and never said another word about it. (He was not an easy man to work for).
FOTH: What type of injuries did you have while riding?
BC: I broke my collar bones 4 times and had a hairline fracture in my foot and ankle. Not bad for all the Rank horses I rode in the beginning!
FOTH: How long did you ride for and what led you to retire?
BC: I rode from 1971 to 1975 then took a summer off and my daughter was born, when she was six months old I started riding again and was working a horse who mis stepped, broke its leg and fell on me. That was my last broken collar bone and I decided that my daughter was more important than my career so I hung up my boots and didn't have a thing to do with horses for 11 years.
FOTH: Do you regret retiring at all? When you first hung up your boots, did you miss riding at all?
BC: I do not regret retiring but I missed riding so much it was like a part of me died. I dreamed about racing then and still do to this day. I ride now and train as a hobby and I find it is very fulfilling. I currently have a 15 hand 10 month old Trakehner filly that I hope to train for dressage and jumping. I watch horseracing but always tear up when I do.
FOTH: Any funny jockey stories to tell.
BC: I could fill a book with stories but I'll just give a couple. When I first started riding at Beulah Park the trainer I was riding for told me to go to the stewards office and get the key to the quarter pole because we were going to work a horse. Well, I fell for it and went and the stewards were really mad at my trainer for doing that. He really got his butt chewed! Of course, everyone laughed about it for a week. Then, another trainer asked me to go see if I could find a girth stretcher at another trainers barn. It was the only other thing I fell for but I did it and once again, the guys laughed for a week!
FOTH: What would you say to somebody who wants to become a jockey?
BC: GO FOR IT, plus a few other words of advice, like finding a really good agent!
FOTH: Was being a jockey harder or easier than you thought?
BC: There is no doubt that it was difficult and dangerous. I really didn't think about it while I was doing it because I loved it so much!
FOTH: What do you think can be done to make horse racing safer for the jockeys? What sort of rules would you change if you could?
BC: I don't think there is really anything you can do because of the inherent risk of working with horses. I think the weight restrictions are crazy, the things jockey's do to make weight is very unhealthy for them. If the guys that gallop the horses in the mornings are heavier (130 to 150) then it stands to reason that the horses can carry more weight in a race.
FOTH: Do you still follow the sport at all or go to tracks to see the horses run.
BC: I go to the races at Retama Park several times a year especially during the triple crown series. I get pretty choked up though. I really don't get very involved in the day to day like I did when I was riding.
FOTH: What are you doing now as far as your life goes?
BC: I'm working for an internet sales company selling electronics at discount rates. I still ride a lot, it keeps me in great shape physically and mentally. I hope to still be riding when I'm 75 years old!
FOTH: Any last words or anything you want to add to this interview.
BC: I would love to hear from old friends that I've lost track of over the years. If they read this interview they can e-mail me at [email protected]. Thanks!