A Ticket To Ride
They are night and day at Churchill Downs, trainer Dale Romans at 6 feet 3 and Tammy Fox at 4 feet 6. One of Romans’ assistants didn’t really give Fox a leg up on his filly, Enjoythe Afternoon, for Thursday’s first race, he virtually tossed her into the saddle.
“If I owned all my horses, I’d ride Tammy on every one of them,” Romans said.
Romans is biased, of course. He and Fox have been together for 14 years, and they’re the parents of a 14-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy.
A jockey boycott at Churchill, with some of the top riders refusing to ride and then being banned by track management, has given Romans and other trainers the chance to use the 94-pound Fox and other replacement jockeys. Robert A. “Cowboy” Jones, who’ll be 60 next month, even got a mount.
Fox rode seven horses Wednesday, the first day of the boycott, and out-finished the legendary Pat Day to run third with one of them, a 40-1 shot. She didn’t do as well with a Romans-trained colt, finishing sixth.
Then in rain and slop Thursday, she brought Enjoythe Afternoon from last place for a nifty maiden win. Enjoythe Afternoon, bred and owned by Brereton Jones, a former Kentucky governor, went off at 13-1 in her debut. This was Fox’s third win of the year, in only her 19th race.
“Tammy’s a good rider,” the 38-year-old Romans said. “She deserves a chance. She’s 39 now, and came along a little ahead of her time. She broke in before Julie Krone came along, won all those races and opened some doors for female riders.”
Romans, the trainer of Roses In May and Kitten’s Joy, who both finished second in Breeders’ Cup races at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30, had better say nice things about the mother of his children. She might look like a runt, but Fox is nobody to mess with. She plays halfback in a professional women’s football league, which uses NFL rules.
Last year, the Churchill stewards suspended her for 14 days after she took a punch, while they were both on horseback, at a trainer’s wife. The other woman had made fun of Fox’s size.
Fox won’t brook any pressure from the regular jockeys she’s replacing.
“If Shane Sellers ever gets in my face, I’d hit him,” she said. “And he knows it.”
Sellers, who has won more than 4,000 races, hasn’t ridden since Oct. 2, when he quit because of high accident-insurance costs, but he has been at the forefront of the dissident jockeys’ protests here.
Last weekend, Sellers was led out of the track in handcuffs when he visited the jockeys’ room, ostensibly to organize his fellow riders.
Fox comes naturally by her penchants for riding and battling. Her father, Billy Fox Sr., was a jockey, and is now an assistant trainer for Romans. Billy Fox Jr., Tammy’s younger brother, also rode. These days he’s running what must be one of the few Cajun restaurants in Columbus, Ohio.
In a prelude to what his sister is doing now, Billy Fox Jr. rode at Aqueduct when many of the name jockeys went on strike at the New York track in 1988. The beef then was whether riders should earn 5% of horses’ purses for second- and third-place finishes.
Fox replaced a picketing Laffit Pincay and won the New York Racing Assn. Mile, a $500,000 race, with Forty Niner, who had finished second to the filly Winning Colors in that year’s Kentucky Derby.
“One day, [the late] Chris Antley, who didn’t appreciate that Billy had ridden during the strike, tried to drop my brother in a race,” Tammy Fox said. “After the race, he gave Antley a black eye and a bloody nose.”
Fox doesn’t belong to the Jockeys’ Guild, which is supporting the riders’ walkout at Churchill.
“My dad told me a long time ago that the guild didn’t do much, and I believe him,” said Fox, who buys her own insurance.
“This is a chance for me to ride, and I’m taking it. These riders have insurance concerns, I’ll give them that, but they’re going about it in the wrong way. I’ve heard that they’ve screamed and cursed at some of the top people in management at the track. That’s no way to go about it.”
Fox wasn’t the only winning female rider Thursday. Angela Owens, who used to gallop horses for trainer Wayne Lukas, won the second race with Quote Me Later.
Rafael Bejarano, who leads the country in wins with 418, used to ride Quote Me Later, but he’s one of the boycotting jockeys.