Candace Savasten

Candace Savasten is a retired jockey that saw the site and emailed so I emailed her back about doing a interview and she agreed. I recently got her on the phone and here is what was said:

FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

CS: I was born in NY and I was raised partly in NY and Conn. and then in Ocala, Fl.

FOTH: Did you belong to a big family or were you the only child?

CS: I have 1 sister and 2 brothers.

FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up and what sort of stuff interested you when you were growing up?

CS: Well when I was growing I was very much a tomboy, all I did was ride. I rode hunters and jumpers for 10 years before getting involved in horse racing.

FOTH: So you pretty much knew at a young age you wanted to do something with animals.

CS: Yeah, I started jumping horses when I was 8. I jumped for 10 years and the I got a job with George Steinbrenner (yes the one that owns the NY Yankees-chris) breaking his yearlings and that is how I got involved in the horse racing end of things.

FOTH: Did you ever get a chance to meet him?

CS: Yeah he came to the farm one fall and in he was giving me a ride from one training barn to another and he said "Candace, what do you want to do with your life?" and I told him I wanted to be a jockey and he said "when your yearlings are ready to go to the racetrack, I am gonna let you go with them." and he owned Tampa Bay at the time. He sent me down there with the 2 year olds and that is when things took off.

FOTH: Are you a big Yankees fan like me?

CS: No. (we both laugh)

FOTH: (laughing) I guess you didn't tell him that I bet.

CS: No, don't tell him that.

FOTH: Now you told me you were riding jumpers for like 10 years. Did you know say, like a year into it that you wanted to become a jockey or were you pretty much just into doing what you were doing.

CS: No see when I was breaking all those yearlings down at Tampa I saw my 1st horse race in his private viewing area and when I saw that, I said to myself I can do that and that is so me. That is what took me away, that 1st race. I never saw one before that.

FOTH: Did you pick up learning how to ride pretty easy and did you have people helping you out?

CS: Yeah everyone told me I was a natural at what I did and I was very good with problem horses so everybody would want me to get on their problem horses that nobody else could gallop. As far as encouragement, nobody encouraged me, they would say, "your too pretty, "you don't belong at the race track", "this is not a place for girls" and "you'll never be a jockey", "you'll never make it."

FOTH: I am gonna backtrack a bit and ask you long did you ride for and what years did you ride?

CS: I am guessing I started in 1984 or 1985 and I went to the racetrack with a jockey and a jockey agent and I was up in NY 6 months later with my jockey's license.

FOTH: Did you find it hard in the beginning and what track in NY did you ride at?

CS: I rode at Finger Lakes and those guys put me through the ringer. I was made to sit in the starting gate 10 races a day for a month. They made me go to the starting gate every morning, 50 times a day, before they would consider giving me a license. They were pretty tough on me.

FOTH: How long did you ride at Finger Lakes?

CS: My first 5 races were there and then I rode in Miami.

FOTH: Tell us what you can remember about your 1st race.

CS: The horse ran off on me. He probably led the field until the quarter pole and I think we ended up 4th or 5th.

FOTH: Were you nervous at all?

CS: I wasn't nervous. I was really confident, but I didn't realize how unfit I was until I got on that jockey saddle for the 1st time and my legs were like noodles by the end of the race.

FOTH: Now what made you decide to go from Finger Lakes down to Florida?

CS: This agent, Gary Cohen, who was a jockey that got hurt really bad, he talked me into going down to Miami and he said "go down to Miami and go in there every single day and work your little heart out and you'll be fine." He saw me ride and he thought I was just great and he just encouraged me to go down there.

FOTH: Is Calder where you got your 1st win at?

CS: No. I started riding at Calder for Marty Wilson and he really took a liking to the way I used to ride and he really thought I was a good rider and he kept using me instead of another jockey who has since passed away now, but my 1st win was at Hialeah. I beat Randy Romero at the wire on a horse that paid $90.00 to win.

FOTH: Did you know you won or was it too close at the wire to tell?

CS: I didn't know I had to gallop the horse back.

FOTH: What was it like going into the winner's circle for the 1st time?

CS: I just remember people screaming and this was a time when the track was packed and so many people were screaming and hollering and I looked at the board and said to myself I can't believe I won. I thought for sure Randy had won.

FOTH: Did the jockeys get you after the race?

CS: Yes they got me, they smashed eggs on me and they sprayed me with a hose and they threw food on me. Yeah, they got me bad.

FOTH: Was their a big difference between the NY horses and the Florida horses?

CS: The horses were really nice down in Florida. I got to ride Affirmed and Glorious Glory, she has won countless sprint races, and I got Cheap Content. I rode a really lot of nice animals.

FOTH: Now did you ride anywhere else besides Florida and NY?

CS: When Hialeah closed I went up in the summer and rode Atlantic City in NJ. I went up there with an outfit and I was one of the top 10 leading jockeys there and I also rode at Phila Park, Delaware Park.

FOTH: Is the turf course at Atlantic City in your opinion as good as they say
it is?

CS: I always thought the turf course there was very slippery and I was always scared to ride on it. I hated it.

FOTH: Did you come across a lot of criticism being a woman rider when you went to these different tracks back in the day?

CS: Yeah I mean can't even fathom half the stuff we went through. I remember when Oscar Barrero, who I don't even know if he trains anymore, was down in Miami and he used to have me get on this horse everyday and it was a big, beautiful chestnut colt and he said "I want you get up on this horse, you get along so good with him" and everyday I got up on this horse and the next thing I know this horse is in the Florida Derby and wins it with another jockey and to me that is very unjust. As far as criticism, I can't tell you the amount of times I heard "woman are not aggressive enough."

FOTH: What led to you retiring after riding for 5 years?

CS: When I quit it got to the point where the horses didn't mean so much to me anymore and I was just getting on mounts. I guess it is how Julie Krone put it one day to me saying she was just getting up on horses and going through the motions and not even knowing the horses name and that is kinda how it was for me. I would get up on the horse, ride it, and then get up on the next one. The very day last I rode was when a million dollar filly was being led around the shedrow by a groom and he had the chain over her nose and he kept shanking her and he shanked her, she finally reared up, she got sick of it and she hit her head on the top of the beam and she fell and she lied there and hemorrhaging and the Mexican trainer down there was laughing at this and I said to myself "I have had about enough of this" and I left and went to college.

FOTH: Now when you were going to collage was there any though of you going back to the racetrack or were you just focused on going to college?

CS: I learned how to be dedicated and motivated while in horse racing. It really helped me out a lot in college. As far as turning my back on horse racing, I always turn on the TV or got on the internet and she how is doing this or that. It broke my heart to see Chris got killed and a couple other people I knew like Sidney getting hurt. I still keep in touch with it, I can't let it go.

FOTH: Are you talking about Sidney Underwood the ex jockey, now trainer?

CS: Yeah.

FOTH: Yeah I know her a bit as I interviewed her for the site a little while back.

FOTH: Do you still go to the racetrack at all?

CS: Since I have been out here in Texas, I have been to Lone Star Park one time.

FOTH: Can you tell by watching a race live or on TV that a jockey gave a horse a bad ride?

CS: Yeah the one thing I noticed that when Chris rode that horse and he was going for the Triple Crown and he jumped off that horse and was grabbing his leg and I thought, he won the Kentucky Derby and he won the Preakness, and then when he went in for the Belmont he didn't ride the horse the same way the first 2 times at all. He rode him completely differently and so coming up the stretch jumps off the horse complaining that his leg was hurting him. I was like "um, you could see right through that, I don't know if anybody else could, but I could see right through that."

FOTH: If some young girl came up to you and said she wanted to become a jockey, what advice would you give her?

CS: I would tell her she should have another job on the side, make sure your extremely fit and completely blow off any negative feedback you get.

FOTH: Looking back, do you think that the 5 years that you rode, you were a good jockey?

CS: Yeah, I think my 5th year was my best. The riders used to call me "On the rail Savasten" cause they knew if I was coming up that stretch and there was even so much as a hole or a piece of daylight, they knew I was coming through. They used to watch out for me and I became very aggressive. My 5th year was my best year.

FOTH: Any one day that sticks out in your mind during your riding career?

CS: I think my best race was when I rode "Glorious Glory" down at Calder for Larry Giger (not sure if that is right chris) for $25,000 and he told me "get in the starting gate Candace and when those gates open you to pull back as hard as you can I want to see your feet in the dashboard the whole time and I did. It seems the gates opened and the finish line was there before I even knew what had happened. Easiest win I ever had in my life.

FOTH: Did you have any injuries at all?

CS: 2 weeks after my 1st win I was put on the same horse at Hialeah and I clipped heels and I went down and didn't ride for 3 months.

FOTH: I am gonna name some tracks and when I do tell me what comes to mind ok. Phila Park.

CS; We shipped in there and I got interviewed on their sports station about a horse I was riding.

FOTH: Atlantic City.

CS: I remember the owner used to eat the donuts in the business room, even the half eaten ones. He was a big fat pig.

FOTH: Calder.

CS: At the time I was riding it was being pushed more than the other 2 tracks and it was the least nicest of the 3 tracks, it is a whole lot nicer and well devolped now than it was back then.

FOTH: Hialeah.

CS: To me it a classic race track and was a very beautiful track.

FOTH: Gulfstream.

CS: Gulfstream was more of a NJ track I thought at the time it is really high tech and fast paced and stuff.

FOTH: Any last words you want to say. Thanks very much for the interview and being part of the website.

CS: I wish woman were more widely accepted than they have been because it is all about, "can you ride a horse?" and women are just as capable as riding a horse as men are, I think woman have a lot more finesse on a horse than the guys do, but that's just my opinion. Good luck with the site and thanks for the interview.

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