Amy Duross

Amy Duross is a retired rider that rode on the east cost in the 90's and she got in touch with me about being interviewed for the site. A few emails later and I got Amy on the phone for this interesting trip back in time. By the way Amy is married to Phila Park jockey Harry Vega.

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

AD: I was born in Utica, NY and I grew up in a tiny down outside of Utica called Waterville, NY.

FOTH: Did you grow up in a large family or a small family?

AD: I have 2 older sisters.

FOTH: Did you like horses at a young age and were you a tomboy at all?

AD: I don't think I was a tomboy, but maybe I was. I was always daring I guess. I think I started riding when I was 4 years old, it was a neighbors horse. By 2nd grade we were skipping school and jumping the fence (laughs) and riding horses we didn't even know. I think I had a guardian angel.

FOTH: At a young age was there any thoughts of you being a professional jockey?

AD: I rode show horses and I rode jumpers and I went to Saratoga one day to the races and I thought, "there is something I could do." The guy that gave me riding lessons he kept saying with my attitude and my size I'd be crazy not to be a jockey.

FOTH: Is that what sort of led to you being an exercise rider with the goal of being a jockey?

AD: My dad brought like 10 horses when we went to Finger Lakes and I galloped those horses and it was a disaster. (laughs) I couldn't hold anything.

FOTH: Was your 1st race up at Finger Lakes?

AD: No I didn't ride until 2 years later and my 1st race was at Atlantic City Race Course.

FOTH: Tell me what you can remember about that race. Were you nervous at all?

AD: I totally remember it. I was real nervous and I didn't have any jockey boots, so I borrowed somebody's. I was in the # 1 hole in a 12 horse field and my horse ran with it's head straight up in the air. (we both chuckle) I couldn't even see where I was going and I said to myself that jockeys must be crazy. I didn't realize it was that crazy out there. I finished last and I don't think I moved a muscle the whole race. It was an experience and an eye opener.

FOTH: Where did you get your 1st win at?

AD: It was at The Meadowlands and all the races were stake races except for my race. I remember Julie Krone being in the race and having the same colors as me and I knew everybody and my horse was like an old pro and steered me through horses and I thought I was gonna finish 2nd and I won. It was exciting. It was John Grabowski's 1st win as a trainer, the owner's 1st win and it was my 1st win. They announced all that and the place went nuts.

FOTH: Did you get the initiation after the race and did you know it was coming?

AD: I forgot about it. I was so excited and I forgot. They were pretty nice it was just water and baby powder and stuff like that.

FOTH: How long did you actually ride for?

AD: On and off like 3 or 4 years.

FOTH: What led you to retiring and not riding anymore?

AD: Well me and Harry (jockey Harry Vega) got married and I had my 1st child when we were up in Boston and I was going to keep riding, but we moved down to Delaware and I didn't know anybody down here so I couldn't get a babysitter or anybody to watch my child and everything kinda just went south.

FOTH: Do you feel that the few years that you rode you were a pretty good rider and were you an aggressive rider?

AD: I think I was pretty good. I was leading rider at Garden State Park. For the time I rode at Woodbine, I was 2nd, not 2nd in the standings cause I went there in the middle of their meet. I don't know if I was 4th leading rider or 5th leading rider after I broke my back up at Suffolk Downs. I was always trying to win and on the track I was very aggressive.

FOTH: What are some memories you have of Garden State Park and what were you thoughts on it when you heard it was closing?

AD: It was a shame. It was such a beautiful track and a beautiful surface. The jock's room was the nicest of all the tracks I have even been. It was in a great spot, Cherry Hill, NJ is a nice place and I couldn't believe they closed it.

FOTH: Since your husband is a rider, do you get a chance to see him ride a lot?

AD: I watch him everyday.

FOTH: Ever tease him at all if he makes a mistake and stuff like that.

AD: (laughs) Oh yeah. He doesn't make that many mistakes so he isn't that much fun.

FOTH: Now the years that you rode, do you think you were treated pretty fairly as a female rider?

AD: I think I was treated pretty fair. There is some trainers that you can never please. I walked onto the track, put my hair up and leave it outside the track and then I was a jockey when I walked in and I tried to act professional and treat it like a business. There is going to be the people that don't like you, but if you get the reputation that you try hard I think everybody likes that.

FOTH: Being an ex-jockey can you watch a race and tell if a jockey did some things wrong during s race?

AD: I think I can. I loved riding and always studied it and I still love it and watch it all the time and have my opinions.

FOTH: Are you ever worried about your husband getting hurt?

AD: Yes. I rather be out there riding myself than watching him.

FOTH: Now do you get to watch him race at Phila Park or do you mostly watch it on TV?

AD: I do both. It is mostly on TV as my daughter is a competitive figure skater and my son plays hockey and we have horses at our house. I'll go up to Phila on the weekends, but we have HRTV at home and I always watch that.

FOTH: I know you mentioned you had a back injury. Was that the only injury you had or was there other ones?

AD: I broke my back, I tore ligaments in my knee and my foot and tore cartilage in my knee.

FOTH: What advice would you give to a young girl that wanted to become a jockey and what would you do if your daughter wanted to become a jockey, would you encourage her to do that?

AD: Absolutely if that is your passion, you should do it. I always looked at it like a business and leave the girl stuff behind you, your a jockey like anyone else and I wasn't that great when I started, but I asked so many questions to the older riders and you have to take the criticism and make it work for you. Also don't get a big head.

FOTH: Do you have a proudest moment as a rider, whether it was winning say 4 races in a day or winning a stakes race, etc?

AD: One day I won 5 races at Garden State out of 9 and that was pretty cool . I won a
$150,000 stakes race there and that was a total surprise. Woodbine was such an achievement just walking in there cause the people there are really, really harsh to Americans and I broke in and did really well and that was an accomplishment.

FOTH: Did you ride down in Delaware or any of the Maryland tracks?

AD: I did ride at Delaware, but back then Delaware was the cheap track. I rode some down there. Horses that couldn't win at Garden State would go down there to race

FOTH: Do you still miss riding a lot or not much at all?

AD: I totally do. For a time I thought that was what I was put on earth to be. I am not willing to give up with I have with my kids and they never see their dad so that is hard enough on them.

FOTH: Do you think another female rider will win a Triple Crown race?

AD: Yes. I love Emma Jayne-Wilson I think she is phenomenal. Rosie Napvarnik is pretty impressive. I wish Kris Prather had kept riding. It seemed like for a while nobody was really tearing it up and these girls are pretty impressive.

FOTH: Are you still in good enough shape that you could get up on a horse and ride?

AD: Not in a race, but I spend a lot of time at the gym. I still weight a 100 pounds.

FOTH: You said you had horses at your house. Do you ever get up on any of them?

AD: My kids have ponies and I get on them and train them. I help some kids out over in Kenneth Square with pony races and those ponies sometimes get like race horses so I know how to straighten them out for them. That is a lot of fun and I love doing that.

FOTH: Being a former jockey, what do you think of all these slot machines popping up at racetracks?

AD: I don't think I have the knowledge to give a great answer, but I don't think horses are around long enough and I think they may have to make the focus more on the jockeys.

FOTH: I would agree with that. These horses win a few big races and then they get retired. I think they need to market the jockey more as he is not going to retire after just a few races. Now have you and your husband ever walked into the casino area at all?

AD: No. Everybody asks me that. I think I have bet 3 horse races in my life.

FOTH: Now when you go up to Phila Park do any of the trainers and stuff still recognize you being a former rider and all?

AD: Yeah they do. I try to keep to myself and I try not go in spots where I'll be noticed. I'll be back I galloped for Graham Motion for a couple years after I had the kids and I loved it. I love horse people and you can't find any people like that anywhere else.

FOTH: Do you ever go in the winner's circle when your husband wins a race?

AD: Only when he drags me in there.

FOTH: That is about all the questions I have for you. Anything else you want to say to wrap this up?

AD: No I just like what your doing, I think it's great. I hope these girls can do something and I really support em. I hope some girl can win a Triple Crown Race in the near future.

FOTH; I think Emma Jayne-Wilson winning that race up in Canada not too long ago woke up a few people.

AD: That was so exciting.

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