“It’s pure adrenalin,” Wilkinson said of race riding. “I can’t explain it.”
“She’s true grit,” said her agent, Fred Struss. “She’ll ride at Turfway in the morning, turn around and drive back to LaGrange to get on horses at High Point (Training Center), and then turn right back around and come back to Turfway to ride at night. She works hard. She’s going to be a good one.”
A native of Marietta, Georgia, Wilkinson has been riding horses since she was a small child and grew up showing hunter-jumpers and Western pleasure. She moved to Kentucky to attend college, first at Midway College and then at Lexington Community College. The difficulties of traveling to and from Georgia to be with her ailing mother cut college plans short, but in 2006 her long experience with horses landed her a job at the Thoroughbred Training Center in Lexington. She next spent a couple of months at WinStar Farm breaking babies and then began working at High Point as an exercise rider for WinStar.
In the summer of 2008 Wilkinson also started riding mornings for trainers Carl Nafzger and Ian Wilkes at Churchill Downs. A broken collarbone sustained at High Point forced a short hiatus, but she was approved to take out her jockey’s license in time to ride the last few days of the Ellis Park meet.
Wilkinson picked up a few mounts at Keeneland, Churchill, and Turfway during those tracks’ fall meets and also at Hoosier and Mountaineer. A conversation with veteran agent Steve Elzey convinced her to return to Turfway for the Holiday and Winter/Spring meets. The long months of winter racing at Turfway have jump-started the careers of several outstanding riders, most recently Rafael Bejarano and Julien Leparoux.