A joint effort between Pimlico and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest breast cancer organization, the annual springtime event was created in 2010 to help raise money and awareness in the fight against the disease.
In addition to the $300,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2) for 3-year-old fillies and $300,00 Pimlico Special (G3), Friday’s 13-race card is highlighted by the Lady Legends for the Cure III race, featuring an elite group of eight retired female champion jockeys, and the second annual Female Jockey Challenge, which brings together seven of the sport’s top active lady riders.
Carded fourth (post time 1:30 p.m. EST), the Legends race is a $45,000 allowance on the main track at six furlongs that includes four also-eligibles. The 9-to-5 program favorite is Bellagio, to be ridden by Mary Russ-Tortora, who finished eighth last year.
The first female to win a Grade 1 stakes race, Russ-Tortora is one of six Legends that return from the inaugural event, which was the first pari-mutuel race featuring retired female riders. Profiled on NBC Sports, it was also filmed as the climatic ending to the feature length documentary in production, JOCK, chronicling the story of the first generation of lady jockeys.
Mary Wiley-Wagner, who rode Mass Destruction to a 6 ½-length victory last year, is back to defend her title. Married to Maryland Jockey Club starter Bruce Wagner, she ranked among the country’s top five apprentice riders in 1983 and briefly returned to competitive riding in 2010.
A breast cancer survivor, her win in 2011 came 18 months to the day after finishing her final chemotherapy treatment. She ran fourth in 2010.
“I’m very excited,” Wiley-Wagner, 48, said. “I’m extremely competitive. Having won it last year, the non-competitive side of me, if there is one, thinks it would be very nice to see someone else win it. Then, the real me says, ‘Uh, no.’
“I’m sure every other rider out there feels the same way. We root each other on and say a prayer together before we go down to the paddock, but as soon as we throw a leg over our horse, it’s each woman for herself. Ride safe, but everybody’s out there to win.”
Also back are Patti “PJ” Cooksey, a breast cancer survivor and one of only two women to ride in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness; Barbara Jo Rubin, the first female to win a pari-mutuel race in the United States; Cheryl White, the first African-American female rider; and Jennifer Rowland Small, the top pioneer female rider in Maryland during the 1970s.
New to the competition this year are Jill Jellison, who ranks seventh among female riders with 1,853 victories between 1982 and 2010, including a career-high 241 in 1989; and Zoe Cadman, who won 311 races from 2000-04 and now works as an analyst for HRTV.
“I’m more excited about it than I thought I would be,” Wiley-Wagner said. “I kind of thought that maybe the third time, you know, it’s been done. I’m excited that we’re going to have a couple of new riders; that’s going to be fun. It looks like it’s going to be a really, really good race. I’m very excited.”
Wiley-Wagner is pleased with the way the event has grown, both for the charity and the industry it represents.
“The first year I think no one really knew what to expect,” she said. “I think a lot of us riders were concerned whether everyone was going to take it seriously enough and really do what it takes to be fit enough. While we’re only riding one race, you have to be pretty darn fit, and you have to keep in mind that anything can happen out there. Everyone has stepped up to the plate each year, and I think they are all looking forward to it as much as I am.
“Not only is it for a great cause, but I think it’s also great for racing. I have so many friends and associates that came out the first year, people who had never been to the races before. They came out to support me and the other legends and some came out just for the cause, and they told me after the fact that they had such a great time. Almost all of them came back last year and are coming back again this year. It’s a great day and a great celebration of Maryland racing and of what people can do when they pull together for a great cause.”
Russ-Tortora, 58, ran third in the 2010 Legends race. She captured the Widener Handicap (G1) on Feb. 27, 1982 aboard Lord Darnley at Hialeah, becoming the first woman to win a Grade 1 race. She won 520 races and nearly $6 million in purses from 1980-94.
Cooksey, 54, ranks third all-time among female jockeys with 2,137 wins, retiring in 2004 with nearly $19.9 million in career purses. The first woman to ride in the Preakness, she ran fourth in the 2011 Legends race after finishing fifth in 2010.
Fifth in 2011 and sixth in 2010, Rubin, 62, became the first woman to win a race against males at a recognized track when she guided Cohesion to victory at Charles Town on Feb. 22, 1969. That same year, she was the first woman named to ride in the Kentucky Derby, though her horse, Picnic Fair, was scratched before the race. Having overcome polio as a child, Rubin retired in January 1970 with 22 wins from 89 mounts.
White, 58, made her riding debut on Ace Reward, a horse owned by her mother and trained by her father, Raymond White, who started two horses in the Kentucky Derby. A winner of five races on Oct. 19, 1983, White was also the first female steward at a California racetrack. She was eighth in the 2010 Legends race, and seventh last year
After an injury ended her seven-year riding career in 1977 with 192 career wins, Rowland Small, 59, bred Touch of Class, a winner of two gold medals for jumping at the 1984 Olympics.
Friday’s race will include $20,000 in bonus prizes. In addition to her earnings in the race, the winner will receive another $6,000. Other prize money: $4,000 (second), $3,000 (third), $2,500 (fourth), $1,500 (fifth) and $1,000 (sixth through eighth). Pimlico will match the amount wagered on Friday’s winner and make a contribution to Komen Maryland.
In addition to her earnings in the race, each Legends participant will receive a $3,500 bonus. Pimlico will match the amount wagered on the 2012 winner on-track, and make a contribution to Komen Maryland.
Star-studded lineup for expanded Challenge
Rosie Napravnik, who leads all female riders this year in wins and purses, and Emma-Jayne Wilson, the Canadian-based defending champion, both return for Pimlico’s second Female Jockey Challenge.
They are joined by fellow returnees Forest Boyce and Vicky Baze, and newcomers Rosemary Homeister, Tammi Piermarini and Greta Kuntzweiler.
The challenge was expanded from six to eight riders this year, but will be without Abby Fuller, who dropped out following the death of her father, Peter Fuller, on Monday. Peter Fuller bred and owned Mom’s Command, who Abby Fuller rode to the New York filly Triple Crown in 1985.
In the challenge format, Riders will earn points for finishing first (12 points), second (6), third (4) and fourth (3) in four designated races: the second, third, fifth and seventh. The jockey with the most points at the end of the competition will be crowned champion and take home top prize of $10,000. Other prize money is $7,000 for second, $6,000 for third, $4,000 for fourth, $2,000 for fifth and $1,000 for sixth.
“This is the best female jockey challenge, not only that I’ve ever been in, but probably one of the best female jockey challenges there’s ever been,” Napravnik said. “They really have done a great job of picking out the elite female riders in the country, which makes it more competitive. It’s fun to get together with the girls that really have been successful, and it’s great to be included in what they call the elite riders in the country.”
On May 4, the 24-year-old Napravnik became the first female rider in its 138-year history to win the Kentucky Oaks (G1) when she guided 13-to-1 long shot Believe You Can to a three-quarter length victory. Eight days later, she was the first woman to ever win the 58-year-old Peter Pan (G2) at Belmont Park, aboard Mark Valeski.
Add those to a growing list of firsts for the New Jersey native, who got her start in Maryland and was the state’s top rider in 2006. She was the first female to win riding titles at Delaware Park (2010) and Fair Grounds, where she repeated her 2010-11 title with 111 victories over the winter. No woman had won the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) before Napravnik and Pants On Fire in 2011, and their sixth-place finish was the best for any female in the Kentucky Derby.
Runner-up to Julien Leparoux for the 2006 Eclipse Award as top apprentice rider, Naparavnik tied Baze for fourth in last year’s challenge.
“I’ve been in a few of these jockey challenges before, and I seem to have the worst luck,” Napravnik said, “but, I still like to do it. It’s really fun, and I’m looking forward to being back.”
Wilson, 31, finished first or second in three of four challenge races to capture the 2011 title, donating her $10,000 winner’s share to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Winner of the 2005 Eclipse Award and Canada’s Sovereign Award in 2005 and 2006 as champion apprentice jockey, she became the first female to win the Queen’s Plate, her country’s version of the Kentucky Derby, in 2007.
Boyce, 27, was third in Maryland’s jockey standings with 71 wins last year after being the state’s leading rider in 2010 as an apprentice, winning 106 races at Laurel Park and Pimlico and riding titles at Laurel’s summer and fall meets. Second in Eclipse Award voting for top apprentice, she was second in the inaugural challenge.
Baze, 47, became the fourth female to reach 2,000 career wins on March 1, 2011 at Turfway Park. She won more than 200 races in 1986 and 1993 before retiring in 2001, returning to ride full-time in 2009, winning 152 races in 2010 and 63 last year.
Homeister, 39, ranks second on the all-time female win list with nearly 2,500 victories, trailing only Hall of Famer Julie Krone. The fifth of six women to ride in the Kentucky Derby, finishing 13th with Supah Blitz in 2003, Homeister was expecting her first child and unable to participate last year.
A 45-year-old mother of three, Piermarini followed Baze as the fifth female to win 2,000 career races, reaching the milestone on Aug. 23, 2011 on Sugar Trade at her home base of Suffolk Downs.
After missing 4 ½ years with drug-related issues, Kuntzweiler, 36, returned to competitive riding in June 2010. A 2000 Eclipse Award finalist for top apprentice, she won the winter-spring meet title at Turfway Park in 2002 and the $750,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup in 2004.
Participants from both the Challenge and the Lady Legends race will take part in an autograph session on the first floor grandstand trackside starting at 10 a.m.