Fifty years after Diane Crump first rode in the Kentucky Derby, women jockeys continue the fight

Courier Journal
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More than half a century later, Diane Crump remembers the small rituals that defined her day, the moments spent on racing’s grandest stage, history made not in broad strokes on a sprawling canvas (although the canvas was plenty sprawling), but rather in small splashes on a young athlete’s soul. Late on the afternoon of May 2, 1970, Crump became the first woman to ride a horse in the Kentucky Derby, a longshot three-year-old named Fathom who was really just a miler and didn’t belong in the  1 1/4-mile Derby, but whose owner, whiskey baron and philanthropist Lyons Brown, was getting on in years—he died three years later—and wanted to dance just once. This sort of thing has happened often in Derby history, men with money running just to run. Sometimes they have won, almost by accident.

Every act from that day lives on for Crump. Walking into the cramped saddling paddock, chockablock with tradition and wealth. “At that point, you know you’re part of it,” says Crump, now 72 and living in rural northwestern Virginia. “You’re part of one of the biggest sporting events in the world.” She talked to the owner and to Divine, who gave her a leg up. She walked Fathom onto the track to My Old Kentucky Home. “Such an incredible feeling,” says Crump. “Warming up, going to that gate. I can still feel all of it.” Her father, a builder—”He could build a boat or build a house,” says Crump. “He could build anything”—from their home in Oldsmar, Florida, was at Churchill Downs. (Crump’s Derby was also the Derby that served as the backdrop to Hunter S. Thompson’s legendary story, The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved for the magazine Scanlan’s Monthly. Crump gets a—very clearly winking—reference just a few hundred words in:

At the airport newsstand I picked up a Courier-Journal and scanned the front page headlines: “Nixon Sends GI’s into Cambodia to Hit Reds”… “B-52’s Raid, then 20,000 GI’s Advance 20 Miles”…”4,000 U.S. Troops Deployed Near Yale as Tension Grows Over Panther Protest.” At the bottom of the page was a photo of Diane Crump, soon to become the first woman jockey ever to ride in the Kentucky Derby. The photographer had snapped her “stopping in the barn area to fondle her mount, Fathom.” The rest of the paper was spotted with ugly war news and stories of “student unrest.” There was no mention of any trouble brewing at a university in Ohio called Kent State.” [The killing of four students at Kent State occurred two days after the Derby, and 346 miles to the northeast.]

Fifteen months earlier, on Feb. 7, 1969, Crump had become the first women to ride a horse in a pari-mutuel race in the United States, when she walked through the crowd at Hialeah Race Track in Miami with a police escort—”…. Greeted with a mixed chorus of boos and cheers,” wrote Dave Hopper of The Miami Herald—and climbed up on 48-1 shot Bridle n’ Bit. Crump was the first, almost by happenstance. Olympic Equestrian Kathy Kusner was licensed as a jockey in 1968, but suffered a broken right leg in November of that year when she was thrown from a horse during a show jumping competition in New York. In the weeks before Crump’s debut, Penny Ann Early and Barbara Jo Rubin were both entered in races at Hialeah, but male jockeys threatened to boycott their mounts rather than ride against Early or Rubin. Officials quelled the insurrection by fining the male jockeys $100 each. Rubin and Early temporarily backed off.

Tensions eased, opening the door for Crump. She finished 10th in a 12-horse field on Bridle n’Bit, and said afterward, “I felt like a real jock out there. I wasn’t nervous. He handled real good for me.” A barrier was broken. Of sorts. (More on this later). Crump rode the first of her 228 winners 41 days later at Gulfstream Park.

It’s important to understand the times in which this happened. Title IX was three years away. Janet Guthrie’s Indy 500 debut wasn’t until 1977, although she was competing against men on a regular basis in lesser races. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer team wouldn’t play its first game for 15 more years. Many high schools did not field teams for young women. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was published in 1963, a foundational moment in what came to be called the women’s liberation movement, but sports, as ever, would be slower to join. Coverage of Crump’s debut reflected this. Crump was quoted as saying, “Wasn’t that wonderful? Everyone was so nice to me I could almost cry.” Columnist Bill Braucher of The Miami Herald related that quote and added, Just like a girl, as the last line of his column. This was common across the media spectrum, possibly typed without malice, but dismissive in the extreme.

Crump did most of her riding for trainer Don Divine, for whom she worked as an exercise rider, and married in late 1969. She stayed active and other women, including Rubin, joined her. The novelty faded ever so slightly as women won races, often on overmatched horses (a recurring theme). The first generation of riders expanded: Tuesdee Testa was the first to win a race at a major track (Santa Anita). Robyn Smith was the first to win a stakes race. Patti Barton (mother of NBC’s Donna Barton Brothers) was the first to amass 1,000 victories. But Crump’s Derby was a towering moment, still in a time of national unrest and stubborn resistance to gender equality.

Crump won the first race of the Derby Day card, a career highlight. Fathom, meanwhile, had no real chance in the big race. He started from the No. 10 post position in the 17-horse field, was 12th into the first turn and then ran with a little urgency on the backside before slowing and finishing 15th. “He actually put in a little bit of a run,” recalls Crump. “I mean, he faded, and I knew that was probably going to happen, but it was such an amazing feeling to pass a few horses and feel like we were competitive.” Famed columnist Red Smith was skeptical. He set up the finish to his column by noting that while 17 horses had started the race, only 16 had finished, because Holy Land clipped heels with another horse and fell. Smith wrote: “Said Diane Crump, the first lady of the Kentucky Derby, ‘I beat two horses.’ Smith, a legend in the business, then laid down his  kicker: “One of them fell.”

There’s little doubt Crump was a pioneer. Likewise all the others, and the women who rode in county fairs and at bush tracks for years, before Crump made it all official. This is not in dispute. But after that, the issue becomes murky. It’s difficult to measure how much ground has been gained in one of the rare sports where women and men compete on even terms (excepting the reality that horses are not all equally fast). After Crump’s Derby ride, 14 years passed before P.J. Cooksey rode So Vague to an 11th-place Derby finish in 1984, and then seven more years before Andrea Seefeldt ran 16th on Forty Something in 1991. Six Derby horses have been ridden by women since, with Julie Krone (1992 and ’95) and Rosie Napravnik (2001, ’13, and ’15), by far the two most successful women jockeys in history, accounting for five of them, and Rosemary Homeister, 13th on Supah Blitz in 2003, the sixth. There will be no women jockeys in Saturday’s 146th Derby.

So, the totals: In the 50 years since Crump broke the Derby gender barrier, women have ridden eight times in the most important thoroughbred race in the United States. None have finished higher than fifth. But okay: The Derby is not like any other race. It is a touchstone, and far more Americans watch than watch any other horse race, but its demographic jockey composition can be funky. Good riders—male or female—can be left on the outside by the quirks of a given season and uneven development of three-year-old animals.

Take a broader view: According to The Jockey Guild, the union that represents more than 95 percent of all North American jockeys, of its 994 current members, 81 are women, or just over 8 percent. According to a Jockey Guild official, that percentage has been relatively steady for more than a decade. Just three women are ranked among the top 250 jockeys by wins, including 31-year-old Carol Cedeno, who has been a fixture at Delaware Park for nearly a decade and ranks 48th in wins. Four women are ranked among the top 250 riders in purse earnings, with Cedeno in 64th. Neither of these numbers approaches 8 percent. The two most prestigious race meets in America are currently running at Saratoga in upstate New York and at Del Mar in Southern California. No races at either track has been won by a woman in the current season.

Krone, who won 3,704 races in a 23-year career that ended in 2004, is the winningest female rider in history, the only woman to win a Triple Crown race, the 1993 Belmont Stakes on Colonial Affair, and the first woman to win a Breeders’ Cup race, the 2003 Juvenile Fillies on Halfbridled. Krone ranks 101st in career victories. Napravnik won 1,877 races in a 10-year career that ended suddenly with her retirement in 2014, when she announced on NBC that she was pregnant with her first child, after riding Untapable to victory in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Napravnik won two Breeders’ Cup races and twice won the Kentucky Oaks. The winningest active rider is Emma-Jayne Wilson, 39, who has won 1,588 races and once ranked as high as 11th in North America in earnings; she has ridden almost exclusively at Woodbine in Canada, where competition is excellent but a cut below the very top U.S. tracks.

In all of this, there are two concurrent realities: Women continue to ride in significant – if not overwhelming – numbers at many race tracks in the U.S. and North America, but none since Krone and Napravnik have competed consistently in the best race meets aboard the top horses for the best trainers, or in Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup races. (There are plenty of exceptions—Chantal Sutherland, who has 1,081 career wins, rode Game On Dude for trainer Bob Baffert in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and $10 million Dubai World Cup. But the numbers are small). This can’t be considered evidence that the barrier Crump breached still stands, but it’s a significant reality.

Krone and Napravnik watch from their respective retirements. Krone, 57 and the mother of teenaged daughter, has stepped back into the racing world this summer as agent for Ferrin Peterson, a 28-year-old licensed veterinarian who turned to riding full time less than two years ago. Their collaboration has been enormously successful—Peterson was second in the Monmouth riding standings with 28 wins (Paco Lopez led with 45 wins). Napravnik, 32, worked as an assistant to her husband, trainer Joe Sharp, for several years after retirement, but moved away from that role two years ago. She has two sons, ages four and five. Neither has a simple answer for re-creating themselves.

Krone says, “I guess we’re not there, yet, in terms of women doing what [she and Napravnik] did. Maybe we’ll get there again. I wish I could say there was a magic potion. I could just give you a knee-jerk answer and say oh, it’s all misogynism and prejudice, and there is that, but I think, there is a recipe. To start with, you just have be really good at being a jockey. You have to understand horsemanship, like Ferrin does. And then there will be opportunities. There are a lot of factors. You need to be lucky, too. You need the right trainer to believe in you. And you know, like I said, be a good jockey.” It’s worth saying that Krone was a fierce competitor, less prone to accepting rejection than most.

Napravnik, who studied Krone’s career intensely, gives an answer that hews closely to Krone’s. “When I went to New York for the first time, in 2012, I had won the [Kentucky] Oaks and I was just on fire. And I totally fizzled. And I thought, well, it’s because I’m a girl and nobody is riding me. But then I came to realize, no, those other riders are just better than me right now. That’s all it is.”

And this: “But yes, of course, it’s true that very few of us got to that highest level, not just for a few races, but for a career. There were times when I didn’t get an opportunity I deserved, probably because I was a woman. But I’ll say this, once I was good—really, good, at my very best—I got all the opportunities I could handle.”

Oct 31, 2014; Santa Anita , CA, USA; Rosie Napravnik aboard Untapable celebrates victory of race nine of the 2014 Breeders Cup Championships at Santa Anita Park. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Jackie Davis, 32, has lived a struggle that is more representative of women riders in the 21st century. The daughter of jockey Robbie Davis, Davis joined the first class of former jockey Chris McCarron’s North American Riding Academy in 2006. In a 13-year career, Davis has won a solid 678 races, the majority at tracks like Suffolk Downs, near Boston, and Parx Racing outside Philadelphia. (Again these are functioning racetracks where riders can earn a living; they are not the major leagues of the sport; a distinction that might not be critical to rider with bills to pay, or a family to help support. It’s possible to be successful without being famous).

Davis tells a story: “I think I’ve had a successful career. I was lucky in that my father was a jockey and I got my start working for [Hall of Fame trainer] Alan Jerkens. But sure, I’ve experienced a lot of sexism. In 2014, I went to Parx to ride and three agents told me, ‘Don’t show up here, nobody will ride you, because you’re a girl.’ Stuff like that.” Davis won 68 races in 2014, most at Parx. She says one of the agents apologized to her afterward. “You just need opportunities,” says Davis. “It’s a male-dominated sport, and we’re always going to have to outwork everybody else to get a chance.”

NBC’s Brothers, who won 1,130 races and multiple graded stakes in a 12-year career that ended in 1998, sees a broader story beyond the battle that started with Crump. “It’s more complicated than discrimination or gender bias. Looking back on the history of horse racing, you would have thought we’d see more female jockeys now than we do. But you know what else we don’t see: American-born male jockeys coming up through the system.”

Ranked by wins, only four of the current top 25 riders are American-born; but purse winnings (a stronger indicator of level of play), five are American-born, including Tyler Gaffalione at No. 3. Most others are Latino, which is hardly a new development in U.S. racing. But Brothers sees a trend. “We don’t have an agrarian society in the United States like we once did. The American-born jockeys from the ’60s to the ’90s grew up riding horses, and not in fancy prep school because their folks were well-heeled. They just plain grew up riding, as did my brother and sister and I. Like riding every day after school, racing in fields, jumping creeks and fallen trees.”

One topic, multiple factors. No clear answers. Like handicapping a race, it’s possible to study every line in the past performances and come away without a winner.

Diane Crump raced on for 18 years after her debut, accumulating all but eight of her 228 career wins and nearly all of her 1,682 starts. She rarely had an agent, and rode almost exclusively for her husband, who was 20 years older. Rarely was she given a live horse by another trainer. “It was almost impossible to get good mounts,” she says. “It just was.” Nothing in her career would move ’69 and ’70 from the first paragraph of her biography.

She lives now on a stack of memories, some warm and some painful. The former: A 1981 victory aboard the filly sprinter Subdeb in the My Dear Stakes at Woodbine in Canada, in which she won a stretch drive between horses and survived a double claim of foul by both male riders. “The coolest race,” she says. “We had shipped to Canada, the other riders were both men. It felt like everything was against us. When that ‘official’ light went on, we all just started screaming. That was such a wonderful day.”

The latter: Crump retired in 1986 and was hired as a farm trainer at storied Calumet Farm in Kentucky; this was another milestone of sorts, as Calumet had rarely hired women for non-office roles. She worked at Calumet for nearly four years and then took freelance jobs breaking young horses. On Feb. 1 in 1989, a two-year-old named Proof Positive reared up on a hillside at the Middleburg Training Center in Virginia, fell backward and landed on Crump—1,200 pounds on top of 110. Crump suffered a broken hip, leg and ribs. Crump was 38 years old and broken, yet the injury compelled her to ride again. She spent years recovering, including two-hour sessions on an Equicizer in her home, and from 1992 through 1998 rode 174 more races before retiring at the age of 50.

Now she runs an equine sales business, matching retired or injured horses with willing buyers, and provides her four miniature dachshunds as comfort for ill, homeless or other disadvantaged individuals. “I call it my mini-missionary,” says Crump. “I make a living financially with my horses, and emotionally, with my dogs.”

Crump has not been on a horse in two decades, better to rest her accumulated injuries. Yet she retains an acute awareness of her place in history and the timeline that has unspooled since. It’s instructive that in 1989, when she was injured, Bill Christine of the Los Angeles Times asked her to evaluate the progress of women as jockeys. This was Crump’s response: “It’s been 20 years and we really haven’t broken that barrier, have we? It might take 50 to break the barrier.”

Now it’s been 50. Her answer has scarcely changed. “We haven’t totally broken it, yet, have we?” she says. “Not totally.” And so the struggle continues—shifting, rising and falling, ever worthy.

Tim Layden is writer-at-large for NBC Sports. He was previously a senior writer at Sports Illustrated for 25 years.

Breeders’ Cup spots on the line this weekend, top trainers hold keys to 2-year-old tests

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Sometimes, in assessing stakes races, it is best to look at the history of the race and see if there is a dominant factor in that history. This weekend’s racing features both the Champagne Stakes and the Miss Grillo Stakes, two Win and You’re In races for the Breeders’ Cup (coverage begins Saturday at 4 pm ET on NBC). For both races, you need to look no further than the “winning trainer” column, which provides some unavoidable facts:

  1. Since 2004, Todd Pletcher has won the Champagne Stakes a record-setting six times.
  2. In recent times, Chad Brown has asserted himself in this race, winning 3 of the last 6 runnings.
  3. In the 14 runnings of the Miss Grillo since 2008, Chad Brown has been the winning trainer 8 times.

All observations and handicapping of these two races must begin with these facts. Is there something that makes horses from these barns better than others? Not necessarily. But history tells us that these two barns have high-quality and expensive horses and they tend to get them to peak at this time of year. You can try to beat them at the betting windows, but be aware of the history that you are running into.

Further research brought up some interesting notes about these two races and their Breeders’ Cup divisions.

First, a look at the 2-year-old colt division. Since 2004 (when Todd Pletcher won the first of his 6 Champagne Stakes), three 2-year-olds have won the Champagne, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2-year-old Eclipse Award. They were War Pass (2007), Uncle Mo (2010) and Shanghai Bobby (2012).  Pletcher trained Uncle Mo and Shanghai Bobby, and Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito handled War Pass.

RELATED: Kentucky Derby modifies qualifying, elevates prep races

Looking at the 2-year-old turf fillies, the dominance of Chad Brown is even more striking. Since 2008, when Chad Brown captured his first Miss Grillo and the first running of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, four 2-year-old fillies have captured the Miss Grillo and the Juvenile Fillies Turf. They were Maram (2008), Lady Eli (2014), New Money Honey (2016) and Newspaperofrecord (2018). All four fillies were trained by Chad Brown.

A review of charts from the Champagne back to 2004 (the year of Todd Pletcher’s first winner in the race) reveals that he had 20 starters, with 6 wins, 3 seconds and 1 third. That means he has won 30% of the time and been in the money 50%.

A review of the charts from the Miss Grillo dating back to 2008 (Chad Brown’s first winner in the race) shows that he has had 23 starters, with 8 wins, 1 second and 4 thirds. That means he has won approximately 35% of the time and been in the money 56%.

RELATED: Olympiad cruises to Jockey Club Gold Cup victory

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Champagne Stakes

So, what does this mean for this year’s editions of these two “Win and You’re In” races for the 2022 Breeders’ Cup?

In the Champagne, it seems that the dominant trainers in the sport are putting forth the major contenders.

  • 2021 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox is likely to start Verifying, who was a solid winner at Saratoga as a big favorite in his only career start.
  • The sport’s all-time winningest North American trainer is Steve Asmussen, who is rapidly closing in on 10,000 career wins. Asmussen, who won this race in 2020 with Jackie’s Warrior, will send out Gulfport, a very impressive son of Uncle Mo. Gulfport won his first two races by an average winning margin of almost 10 lengths. Then, he had some real misfortune in his next two starts, finishing 2nd in both races at Saratoga. In the Saratoga Special, he had major traffic problems that led to losing several lengths at the top of the stretch. As the favorite in the Hopeful, he endured a wide trip on a sloppy surface to be 2nd best again. With a clean trip, he will be a major contender in the Champagne.
  • As previously stated, Chad Brown has won the Champagne in 3 of its last 6 runnings. He is likely to enter Blazing Sevens, who is a son of Good Magic, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner. After a big win in the first race of his career at Saratoga, Blazing Sevens endured a wide trip on a sloppy track in the Hopeful Stakes, and he should improve here, especially on a fast track.
  • The horse who beat Gulfport in the Hopeful was Forte, trained by the 6-time winner of this race, Todd Pletcher. The stretchout to a one-turn mile in the Champagne would have seemed to be made to order for his closing kick. At entry time, Pletcher chose to not enter Forte in the Champagne Stakes, in all likelihood because he plans to enter the horse in the Breeders’ Futurity next Saturday at Keeneland. The Breeders’ Futurity is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and can be seen on CNBC.

RELATED: Taiba wins $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Baffert

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Miss Grillo Stakes

Moving on to the Miss Grillo, Chad Brown is likely to enter Free Look, who was an impressive late-closing winner of a Maiden race in her second career start. In her first start, she was a victim of a slow pace, and the best she could do from the back of the pack was close to be 3rd. She seems to be a horse who is likely to improve with more racing. Free Look is a daughter of the leading sire Tapit.

Two others to watch in the Miss Grillo are Be Your Best and Pleasant Passage. Be Your Best is undefeated in two starts for trainer Horacio DePaz. Her last start was the P.G. Johnson Stakes, and she displayed the stalking style that has led to wins in both of her starts. Another with a license to improve is Pleasant Passage, from the barn of legendary trainer Shug McGaughey. In her only career start, she rallied up the rail and endured a stretch battle to get up for a narrow win. She has outstanding grass breeding, and the experience of that win should work in her favor in this race.

It is hard to predict outcomes with lightly-raced 2-year-olds. What we do know is that two horses will win their way into two Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday. That’s the great thing about these “Win and You’re In” races… they are running for something other than purse money, and it often produces some outstanding outcomes.

Lookahead to 2022 Breeders’ Cup

These races lead up to two of the 14 championship races on November 4th and 5th. For those who have never watched an entire Breeders’ Cup, get ready for the rush of witnessing a world championship event every 35 minutes or so. It’s like the Olympics of our sport. Be ready to watch and wager, and you’re sure to come away with some great memories. If you pick some winners, you might come away with a nice profit, as well. The Breeders’ Cup…there’s nothing like it!

Pegasus on Jan. 28, Florida Derby on April 1 at Gulfstream

Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Gulfstream Park announced the schedule for the 2022-23 Championship Meet, highlighted by the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 28.

Also on Pegasus day: The $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, as well as the $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

Gulfstream’s top Kentucky Derby prep race, the $1 million Florida Derby, will be run on April 1 as part of a card with 10 stakes races. Other top 3-year-old preps at Gulfstream in early 2023 include the $150,000 Mucho Macho Man on Jan. 1, the $250,000 Holy Bull on Feb. 4 and the $400,000 Fountain of Youth on March 4.

The Pegasus is returning for a seventh time. The format has changed several times in the race’s infancy; the purse structure for the Pegasus World Cup no longer requires owners to put up $1 million apiece for a spot in the starting gate for what was, at its inception, the world’s richest race with a purse that reached $16 million.

This much has remained constant: Winning the Pegasus changes a horse’s resume. No Pegasus winner has ever finished worse than sixth in the yearlong earnings among North American horses, and two past winners – Arrogate and Gun Runner – are two of the three highest-earning thoroughbreds in U.S. history.

Gulfstream’s Championship Meet runs from Dec. 26 through April 2, featuring 60 stakes races, 35 of them graded, and worth a combined $13.6 million.