THOROUGHBRED RACING : She Became First Woman to Reach Winner’s Circle
There are 82 good reasons why men and women should not ride against each other. They are the 82 jockeys who were killed in racing accidents since 1940.
--NICK JEMAS, national managing director, Jockeys’ Guild, 1969
Twenty-five years ago this week, teen-aged Barbara Jo Rubin won a race with a 6-year-old gelding at a leaky-roof track in Charles Town, W. Va., and became the first female jockey to win a thoroughbred race at a recognized track in the United States.
Asked the other day about how she felt hitting the wire first with Cohesion, a half-length winner over a stablemate, Rubin said: “It felt good just to be able to ride. That’s all we ever wanted to do, to get the chance to compete like the men did.”
Rubin, 44, goes by B.J. Warman now, using the initials from her name and the last name of her second husband. They run a horse-drawn carriage business and teach riding near West Palm Beach, Fla. When B.J. was 12, growing up in Florida, her future husband used to give her mounts in match races at bush tracks. “Dick made a lot of money off me then,” she said. “Nobody wanted to bet on the horse ridden by the girl, and I won a lot of races for him.”
In the early years of the female riding movement, some female jockeys would go by initials instead of given names, hoping trainers might hire them without knowing their sex. Patti Cooksey became P.J. Cooksey, and went on to win more than 1,200 races. One day, an unsuspecting trainer, meeting Cooksey in the paddock before a race, blurted: “Hey, you’re a woman!”
“Yeah,” Cooksey said. “I’ve been one for years.”
Trainer Bryan Webb, whose current stable is at Golden Gate Fields, held Barbara Jo Rubin’s first riding contract. On Jan. 15, 1969, Rubin was to ride a horse at Tropical Park in Florida, but the male jockeys refused to ride. The Florida Racing Commission fined 13 of them $100 apiece.
“I was in a tough spot,” Webb said the other day. “Saul Silberman owned Tropical Park, and I trained some of his horses. He called me and said he didn’t want the girl riding, stirring up things.”
Rubin cried when she was removed from her first mount. She and Webb remember bricks being thrown at the trailer that Rubin used as a dressing room. One of them shattered a window.
Stymied in Florida, Rubin went to ride at a track on Nassau, in the Bahamas, and won a race there that Jan. 29. On Feb. 7, at Hialeah, Diane Crump finally broke ground, becoming the first woman to ride in a parimutuel race in the U.S. She finished 10th in a 12-horse field.
In early February, Webb shipped his horses to Pimlico, hoping to run at the Baltimore track in the daytime and at nearby Charles Town at night. Although he had raced at Pimlico before, the track wouldn’t give him stalls unless he signed an affidavit swearing that he wouldn’t use Rubin as a jockey.
At Hialeah, Crump had managed to get only two additional mounts since her debut. One day at Charles Town, Webb was sitting with Irv Kovens, who owned the track.
“You know, I’ve got a girl jockey who could ride here and put Charles Town on the map,” Webb said.
Kovens, who hadn’t heard about the brick-throwing incident at Tropical Park, didn’t seem interested.
“This is a nice Jewish girl who can ride,” Webb went on. “I thought you people took care of your own.”
Kovens was noncommittal, but by the time Webb reached his hotel room in Baltimore later that day, the track owner was on the phone, clearing the way for Rubin.
For the 6 1/2-furlong ninth race on Feb. 22, Webb entered two horses, with Rubin to ride Cohesion.
“Reporters were all over the place,” Warman recalled. “There were a lot of them when I was about to ride in Florida, but nothing like what we had in Baltimore and Charles Town. I used to exercise horses in the morning, and then take a nap, but this day I missed my nap.”
The crowd at Charles Town was more than 9,300, the biggest Friday-night turnout in track history. Webb’s entry went off at 2-5, and stablemate Reely Beeg led all the way before Rubin found room on the inside with Cohesion and passed her at the wire.
There were suggestions that Larry Kunitake let up on Reely Beeg, allowing Rubin’s horse to win. “The age of chivalry is not yet dead,” one of the Charles Town stewards said.
Webb denied that. “Cohesion was a good $25,000 horse,” he said. “He had the speed that always made him dangerous on those bullring tracks. There was nothing funny about the race.”
Rubin was quickly hauled off to New York, in Kovens’ chauffeur-driven car, to appear on the “Ed Sullivan Show” and to be interviewed by Walter Cronkite and by Joe Garagiola. She remembers more about Janis Joplin’s outrageous backstage behavior than anything she said to Sullivan.
Later in 1969, Rubin suffered torn cartilage in both knees and a broken pelvis in spills. She gained weight and got too heavy to ride. Her career ended with 28 winners, including a couple of more on Cohesion.
“She was also the first woman jockey to win a race in New York,” Webb said. “We went up to Aqueduct with a horse called Brave Galaxy, and Buddy Jacobson saddled him.
“I was taking Barbara Jo to the airport after the race when we heard sirens and lights behind us. They pulled us over and told us that somebody at the track wanted her to ride there one more day. I’d bet our horse pretty good. The first thing I thought (upon seeing the police car) was that they were going to take the money away.”