When most athletes retire from the sport they are involved in, 99% don’t try to come back to their former sport. Most just ride off into the sunset and carry on with their lives. Some end up staying involved by being a TV announcer or getting a job with one of the many cable TV sport networks or becoming a coach or trainer.
(photo taken by Nathan Perkel)
I am here to tell you a story of a jockey that retired in 2010 to become a mom of two kids and came back to the sport of horse racing after being away for two years. Since coming back to ride, she has been putting up some incredible numbers. There are currently in the U.S. a total of 1623 jockeys riding today and Maria currently ranks 105th in purse earnings for the year of 2013.
Being a female in a male dominated sport is not easy. You have to have mental and physical toughness to be a jockey otherwise you will not be in the sport a very long time.
For those who don’t know exactly what a jockey does:
- A jockey is someone that paid to ride a horse in a race (usually by the owner or trainer).
- Normally a regular sized human is too heavy, so a jockey stands in.
- Most jockeys are anywhere from 5’0″ to 5’5″ tall and weigh between 105 to 120 pounds.
This jockey’s name is Maria Remedio and here is her story.
Maria grew up in Wilmington Delaware and was pretty much a tomboy growing up. She has three brothers and one sister. She attended Hodgson Vo Tech High School where she wrestled for the boys JV Wrestling team; she wrestled at 103lb. weight class and logged a 9-3 record. She also joined the boy’s lacrosse team and became a key player. She also became a member of the U.S. Girls Wrestling Association and won individual titles in Pennsylvania, Washington DC and Virginia. They wanted her to be on the varsity team but she ended up declining.
As far as being a jockey, the thought did enter Maria’s mind at a young age. She had always lived on a farm and started riding as soon as she could sit in a saddle. She competed in Western Gymkhanas: barrel racing and speed events. Her mother (Patti Remedio) says “We knew we were in trouble when she would come out of the ring and say “I need a faster pony!”
Maria’s step-dad (trainer) had her on thoroughbred horses at the track at age 14 galloping race horses. He would tell her to “put your goggles on, keep your head down and don’t talk to anyone on the track”. For the next 4 1/2 years she rode any horse anyone would let her ride. She rode amateur flat races having to make weight (130lbs) by soaking her saddle towel with water and hiding rocks under her saddle.
That is when the actual thought of being a jockey entered Maria’s mind. For the next 2½ years she exercised horses to get herself familiar with becoming a jockey. (Every jockey, before becoming a jockey is what is known in the racing industry as an ex-rider. It varies from person to person on how long they do this).
Maria did most of her exercising for a trainer named Graham Motion who she ended up riding her first race for at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. When asked what her thoughts were on her first race she said it was a rush, but not mind blowing and she liked it a lot. She said the jockeys up at Monmouth Park were good to her and helped her out as much as they could before and after the race.
Looking back, Maria said becoming a jockey was harder than she thought it was going to be. She actually ended up starting her career in New Jersey at Monmouth Park. She said that everybody knew her at Delaware Park, but in Delaware you have to go through all these steps to get your jockey license. At Delaware Park she had to take a couple tests and they had her coming out of the gate so she says in the long run she had to work extra hard to get her jockey license.
Maria’s first win came on her 19th birthday, October 20, 2004 aboard “Semtex Sally” for trainer Paul Layton at Penn Nation. She said it was mind blowing and she won the race by nine lengths. She was actually kidding when she said, “if I don’t win this race I am never riding again”. The jockeys got her good after the race pouring three buckets of water on her, shaving cream, powder and eggs. (It is a ritual that has been going on in thoroughbred racing for many, many years when a jockey wins his/her first race the other jockeys get him/her with various items, such as above).
Well after her first win in 2004, Maria pretty much rode full time, mostly riding at Delaware Park and Phila Park (now called Parx Racing) in Pennsylvania. She also rode out of town to such tracks as Laurel Park, Pimlico, and Monmouth Park. At time she said she wanted to ride for five years but that turned out not to be the case.
In 2004, Maria rode in 45 races for the year winning four races with three second place finishes and five thirds.
2005 was pretty much Maria’s first year as riding as a full time jockey. She rode in 634 races, winning 74 of them with 87 second place finishes and 73 third place finishes.
In 2005 Maria became an apprentice jockey. For those who don’t know this is the definition:
An apprentice jockey is a race rider who has ridden less than 40 winners or less than two years since first having been licensed in any racing jurisdiction, and who otherwise meets the license qualifications of a jockey. The apprentice has to ride in three races before he can carry a whip. In the racing program a 10 pound apprentice would have this symbol (***) next to his name. The apprenticeship of an apprentice jockey shall automatically terminate one year from the date of his or her fifth winning ride, or on the date of his or her 40th winning ride, whichever comes later. No apprenticeship shall extend for more than two years from the date of the fifth winning mount, except for good cause the Board may extend the termination date of an apprenticeship or amend the conditions under which the apprenticeship is granted.
After Maria lost her “apprentice” title she became a “journeyman” jockey. A “journeyman” jockey is horse racing term for a jockey that has lost his apprentice.
While Maria was an “apprentice rider”, she suffered two pretty serious injuries. One was a broken collarbone and the other was a broken foot. During the time of each injury she was not riding and was doing rehab to get back to the races.
In 2006 Maria also had another full year of riding under her belt as she rode in 533 races. She won 64 of them and had 70 seconds and had 78 thirds. On October 25, 2006 she won a horse her mom trained up at Penn National.
In 2007 Maria had her biggest career win to date as she won 91 races from 530 mounts, most of them at Parx Racing (aka Phila Park). She also had 70 seconds and 73 thirds and her purse earnings were almost $2 million dollars that year. She was also invited by Parx Racing Trainer Herold Whylie to go to the West Indies in Jamaica to ride in a jockey challenge where there were over 16,000 people in attendance. The challenge had six out-of-town jockeys and the rest were local jockeys. There were five races in the challenge and jockeys just picked at random which horse they rode. Maria is not sure who won, but she had a 2nd and 3rd place finish and it was the first time she had ridden out of the area where she grew up. She was the only female jockey in the race and they had a big crowd because there are no female riders.
Maria also won 3 Grade 1 Stake Races at Delaware Park, which was very special for her as she grew up in Delaware.
In 2008 Maria had another outstanding year as she rode in 403 races and won 71 races and had 59 seconds and 47 thirds for another year of almost $2 million dollars in purse money.
In 2009 Maria’s first child, Caleb Dominic was born in October. At this point in her life she wanted to still ride, but only part-time. She only rode in 55 races that year (09) and won four of them. In the time she was pregnant she never got up on a horse and after being away for almost a year, she went to Parx Racing where she got up on six horses in the morning and said felt good, but the next day she had to take Ibuprofen to reduce the pain!!!
In 2010 Maria mostly rode part-time as she juggled life as a mom and a jockey. She rode in 65 races that year and won just seven races as juggling motherhood and riding was starting to take its toll on her.
When you are a jockey, a typical day is getting up at 5:30am and getting to the track around 6am when the track opens for training, exercising and breezing horses (this is to get horses that are going to be riding in a week or so ready to race). You do this till 10am or so and then if you are riding that day, you go home for an hour or so and then head back to the track to ride races. This was a tough schedule to maintain as a new mom.
The name of the game in horse racing is to won races. If you are not winning races then your days of being a jockey may not last as the only “guaranteed money’ you get is $ 100.00 mount fee. You also have to be 100% dedicated to being a jockey and this is one sport where everything falls upon your shoulders as you are the only one up on the horse and if you start slacking off you can easily be replaced by another jockey.
In August of 2011, Maria’s second child “Arabella Danette” was born August 9th. Thirty-nine days after giving birth by cesarean section Maria thrilled her mom by winning on her horse King Kobe at Delaware Park.
I was at the track that day that she won that race and believe me for a jockey, after being away from riding for so long and going through what she did, to win a race less than 40 days after giving birth, is an incredible story in itself.
In the fall of 2011 Phila Park put on another female jockey challenge and after it was over Maria decided that she was going to be moving up to NY to live with her fiancé at the time, jockey David Cohen. A few days after the challenge, after much thinking, Maria decided she was going to retire. She was going to put family first and with changing locations, riding in races was just not going to be a good fit.
Maria told me when she went into the jock’s room with her valet a few days later to clean her locker out, it was very emotional for her. Riding was her life but David at the time said she could always go back to riding as nothing is set in stone. Maria also said to me that she had no second thoughts with her decision and she knew what had to be done. She says she almost shed a few tears on her way out the door.
Maria went to New York and tried to be a stay-at-home mom, but staying at home all day wasn’t agreeing with her so in around 2012 she decided to move back to Bensalem, Pennsylvania to resume her riding career. She wanted to perform the best she ever had during her riding career but not being on a horse for nearly a year she told me it took her much longer to get into riding shape and she knew this would be her last chance to ride as a jockey.
Things had obviously had changed with Maria being a full time mom, but she had the full support of her mother, family and friends to make it work.
Maria is having her best year as a jockey and she rides with a ton of confidences and puts in 110% effort on every horse she gets on.
On March 16, 2013, Maria was involved in a spill in which she was thrown from a horse she was on and took off the remainder of her mounts that day. The next day she ended up riding her three mounts and she won the very last race of the day and then the next day, she won the first four races on the card, making it five wins in a row for her, which is quite an accomplishment.
Remedio had an incredible year in 2013. Below are some of her stats for the year:
- Remedio was the third-leading rider at Parx Racing by victories
- Out of 1,710 jockeys who rode in 2013, Remedio ranked 97th in purse earnings
- Out of all female riders, Remedio ranked 4th in purse earnings
- Out of all female riders, Remedio ranked 4th in wins
Being a female in a male-dominated sport is not easy. You have to have mental and physical toughness to ride professionally otherwise you will not be in the sport for a very long time. Remedio proved she has the mental and physical toughness, and she plans on riding for a long time to come.
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