Belmont Stakes champion Rags to Riches isn’t the only young lass to distinguish herself against lads. Yesterday, Emma-Jayne Wilson, 25, became the first female jockey to win Canada’s main prize. Wilson, aboard 15-1 outsider Mike Fox, won the 164th running of the Queen’s Plate.
Hers was no easy feat seeing that Jiggs Coz, the favorite, and a trio of American invaders garnered most of the pre-race attention. Moreover, the owner and trainer of Mike Fox hadn’t won the Plate either.
British-born Ian Black has been a trainer for only three years. He has plenty experience around horses, having been the manager of Kinghaven Farms for 30 years, but saddling the horses and giving a leg up to jockeys are relatively new to him. “I suspected he would run very, very well, the way he trains,” said Black, after the race. But Mike Fox had been victorious in three of his seven lifetime starts, so his morning works weren’t a failsafe barometer.
Wilson promised six years ago when she first started riding that she’d make a star in the saddle of herself. In 2006, she captured her second consecutive Woodbine riding title and was voted the Sovereign Award as Apprentice of the Year for the second year running. In 2005, she won a similar Eclipse Award. Her ride aboard Mike Fox in the Plate yesterday confirmed that the voters weren’t foolish.
Wilson tracked the leaders in third place for most of the race. Allezandro, a High Yield colt with an obviously bright future having raced only twice before Saturday, seemed to be the winner with a mere furlong to go. But then Jiggs Coz started after him. As the two runners approached the finish line, it looked to be either horse’s race. Then, somehow, miraculously, between them, Mike Fox with Wilson aboard made their presence felt.
Wilson drove the bay son of Giant’s Causeway through a hole that was the size of a wedding band. The winning margin was three-quarters of a length. The final time, a nondescript 2:05:80 with a final quarter in 28 ticks.
Nobody at Woodbine cared how slowly the winner ran. Everyone was fixated on Wilson, as she plucked flowers from the purple and gold floral blanket and smiled through her long-winded interviews. In the white silks and green sleeves and cap of D. Morgan Firestone’s racing silks, she became Queen of the Plate, not a Queen’s Plate jockey.
More than any other racing jurisdiction, Ontario gives women a chance to ride in the afternoons when it counts. Chantal Sutherland, a regular on the New York circuit for several years, came out of Canada. Michelle Rainford is the hottest jock at Woodbine in June.
In all, at least half a dozen women are in the top ranks of Woodbine riders. On Queen’s Plate day, nobody in the large crowd even noticed that a jockey switch in the first race put a female apprentice in the saddle of the winner. Stephanie Fedora booted home Black Tea in a three-year-old fillies claiming race. It was no feat like Wilson’s, but you’ve got to start someplace.