Oriana Rossi is a very successful jockey at a bunch of tracks out in the Mid-West area. I recently got her on the phone as she was recovering from an injury and here is what she said to my questions that I posted to her:
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
OR: I was born in England. We lived in Italy and then went back to England when I was 3 and went to school there. My family all live in Italy, except for my mom who lives in France.
FOTH: At what age did you end up coming over to the United States?
OR: When I was 24.
FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up?
OR: I was a pretty active kind of person; I was into a lot of sports like cross country and basketball and rode horses from a young age.
FOTH: Now when you came over here to the US, was the plan to become a jockey here and ride in the US or did that come later on?
OR: It wasn’t really. I had a few rides in England when I was 18 and 19 but as you know it is very different over there. It kinda put me off for a little while so I went back to galloping. I got bored in England though and decided I wanted to do something different, so I came over here to gallop and I really liked it. It wasn’t an official goal to start riding again. It had always been in the back of my mind because I did enjoy it when I was doing it, so when the opportunity arose I took it.
FOTH: What was your first job at a racetrack in the US?
OR: My first job was galloping for a trainer named Jeff Thornbury; we did the circuit in New Orleans, Keeneland and Arlington Park.
FOTH: What event or events then led to you becoming a rider again?
OR: I was galloping for a trainer called Tim Glyshaw and there was a horse he had who was a little difficult, he’d run a few times but never really done any good. I got on him in the mornings and I got along well with him. So one night we were out for dinner, Tim and his wife and the horse’s owners and I, and we were just chatting about him, and they suggested I that give him a try in the afternoon. At first I thought they were joking but it turned out they weren’t, so I just said “sure why not!” and that is pretty much how it happened. We thought we’d give it a go and see if he’d run any for me, turns out he didn’t really, we ran 5th. In fact I just saw the horse at River Downs and he is still a maiden! So I didn’t really have a plan from there, but I guess a couple of people had seen me riding him and decided to put me on their horses, and it just kinda snowballed from there! It grew quickly and before I knew it I was riding a lot of horses every day.
FOTH: Were you nervous at all before your 1st race in the US and what racetrack was it at?
OR: It was at Ellis Park last summer, I was excited, but I wasn’t nervous. I’m not really a nervous kind of person, plus it wasn’t my first race ever, just my first for a few years, and my 1st in the US. I knew the horse and knew the trainer and I was aware of my abilities, or lack thereof! (laughs)
FOTH: Tell me about your 1st win and did you win any races when you were riding overseas?
OR: No I never won over there. It was pretty exciting; I didn’t think we were going to win. It was about three weeks after my 1st ride that I got my 1st win. I was riding for Dwight Preston, I had already ridden 2 for him that day and this was my last ride of the day. I rode a filly called Dancing Sky and went into the race without any real expectations. It was on the turf, and we ended up coming from last to first for the win. It was great, I loved it! I’m sure everyone could tell it was new to me though, I forgot to take off my goggles in the win picture (laughs). It was very exciting.
FOTH: What track was this at?
OR: Ellis Park.
FOTH: Did the jockeys get you good after the race and did you know it was coming?
OR: Yeah they got me pretty good. Jon Court was kinda sneaky about it. I don’t if you have been to Ellis…
FOTH: No I have not.
OR: Well when you walk back to the jock’s room there is a horse statue and in the middle of the paddock, so I was walking back and Jon came out from the middle of the paddock and shook my hand and congratulated me on my 1st win, which I thought was nice. So I carried on walking and he walked the other way, he must have had a bucket hidden behind the horse statue, because two seconds later I was soaked in freezing water! After that everybody came out and covered me with eggs and flour and shaving foam, they got me good but it was a lot of fun. I do have some really cool pictures of it.
FOTH: How do you prepare for a race? Do you look at the racing form or do what the trainer’s says, etc?
OR: When I get to the jock’s room I usually look at the form for my races, you look at past performances , what kind of race they like to run, how far, what surface etc to get some idea of how your need to ride the race, and how the other horses are likely to go. When you get to the paddock the trainer will give you some instructions and they may or may not match up to what the form tells you about the horse. I usually try to do what the trainer tells me to, especially if I have never been on the horse before. Trainers appreciate when you follow instructions, and a lot of times if a trainer knows you and your riding style they’ll likely let you use your own judgment, and just tell you to ride your race.
FOTH: Take me through what you do on a typical day?
OR: On a typical day I usually get up around 4.45, and get to the track around 5.30 – 5.45. I’ll go and breeze horses for whoever needs me to that day, and my agent and I usually go visit with trainers we ride for. After I finish for the morning I’ll go get a coffee and go home for a shower. Then I’ll head over to the jocks room, read the form and get ready to ride. Some days I ride at 2 different racetracks so on those days when I get done riding at the first track I jump in the car and hightail it over to the next track. I work at different tracks in the mornings too so it’s often a lot of driving!
FOTH: I know you ride at 2 different tracks and stuff, so what do you do when you are not riding to relax?
OR: I don’t get much time for that! (laughs) When there are dark days though I like to hang out with my friends, we go out and eat, watch movies, the usual things.
FOTH: Now looking back, was becoming a jockey easier or harder than you thought and why?
OR: I wanted to be a jockey since I was really, really small and over there they are not into riding girls and there is very little return in riding over there if you know what I mean. Over here it kinda surprised me how quick it took off at Ellis last summer. It got a little tougher after that. I think though when you work hard and try to the best of your ability people really appreciate that.
FOTH: How long would you like to ride for or you don’t have any set time for how long you will ride for?
OR: Well there is no thought in my head about quitting just yet! I would like to ride for as long as I am physically able to. I really love my job.
FOTH: Is there one track that you saw on TV that you would like to ride one day?
OR: I have ridden at some awesome tracks like at Keeneland and Churchill, so I’m lucky in that respect, but I would love to get the opportunity to ride at somewhere like Delmar or Saratoga. I wouldn’t necessarily have to be based there, but just to have a horse good enough to go would be great. The racing at those places is top class and they are such beautiful tracks, I think it would be a fantastic experience.
FOTH: If a young girl came up to you and wanted to become a jockey what advice would you give to her?
OR: I’d say go for it, but take your time and do it the right way. There are a lot of people that want to become jocks and want to rush, rush, rush right into it and don’t get really to learn the foundation, the basic things you need to know. You need to understand the horses and to be able to ride them from the ground up. The more you know the better you’ll be ready.
FOTH: Do you feel you have a certain riding style?
OR: I like my horses to settle, I don’t like to fight too much with them if I don’t have to. I’m more of a finesse rider; I like them to be happy and want to run for me. But every horse is different and you ride them accordingly. As far as whether I like being on front or coming from behind it is really up to the horses, whatever suits them is whatever suits me.
FOTH: Grass or dirt or it doesn’t matter to you?
OR: Either one. I like the turf, but it depends on what track you’re at and what the turf is like. I like the dirt too, and I don’t mind getting dirty! Again, whatever surface my horse is happy on suits me
FOTH: Have you ever been recognized outside the racetrack by people who say “hey I know you, you’re a jockey?”
OR: Yeah I have. (laughs) There is a coffee shop I go to; they know me in there now. I walked in one morning and one of the guys said to me, “hey you’re in the paper!” I hadn’t seen it so that was kinda funny, I was a little embarrassed! Another one told me they went to Churchill one day and when they walked in they heard people shouting for me. I don’t often get recognized just walking around though. People often ask me if I’m an athlete because of my physique, so I tell them I’m a jockey, and when I tell them my name they’ll say, “Oh, I know you, you rode so-and-so horse I bet on!” or “My daughter watches you ride all the time”
FOTH: Do you happen to know the longest shot you have ever brought in?
OR: I don’t know the longest shot I’ve won on, but I do remember a horse that I ran 2nd on at Churchill that paid something like $ 189.00. People often tell me I ruin their exactas though when I hit the board on a long shot!
FOTH: What is the feeling like jogging a horse back to the winner’s circle after winning in a close photo?
OR: It never gets old. Winning period never gets old. When you look over and see your number on the tote board it is a fabulous feeling, and on the flip side when you look over and you finished 2nd it is frustrating. That is the way racing goes.
FOTH: Do you like any other sports besides racing?
OR: I like football and follow it when I get time. I have spent the last 4 or 5 winters in New Orleans and it is a lot of fun going to games. Football is pretty much the only other sport I follow.
FOTH: So you’re a Saints fan I assume.
OR: Yes I am.
FOTH: Listen I am out of questions, thumbs up for the interview and last words you want to say to wrap this up and hopefully I will get to see you race live one day?
OR: That would great and thanks for the interview Chris.
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