P.J. Cooksey: Why She's a Rockstar

While I will not be at Pimlico this weekend to see Super Saver attempt to take the second jewel of the Triple Crown, I am eagerly anticipating the outcome of all the events of the next couple days, one of them being the Lady Legends For the Cure Race, a $30,000 six-furlong allowance on the main track for 3-year-olds and up May 14. Like many other events that day, the race focuses on breast cancer awareness.

The Lady Legends race, which is the first ever pari-mutuel outing featuring retired champion female jockeys, will also be filmed as the ending to the feature length documentary, JOCK, that tells the story of the first generation of female jockeys.

I can’t help but root for P.J. Cooksey, who overcame breast cancer and defied all kinds of odds and is now the third-leading all-time female rider in Thoroughbred in the U.S. How cool would it be if Cooksey, who was the first woman to ever ride in the Preakness in 1985 when she finished sixth aboard Tajawa in 1985, came back and won such a memorable race at the same track?

Cooksey, who hung up her riding tack in 2004, had quite the rockstar career. She scored her first victory in 1979 at West Virginia's Waterford Park, and retired with 2,137 wins from 18,266 mounts. She is one of three female riders to compile more than 2,000 career wins, a milestone she shares with all-time leader and Thoroughbred racing Hall of Fame member Julie Krone and Rosemary Homeister Jr. who has 2,302 wins.

P.J. Cooksey at Churchill Downs, photo by Skip Dickstein 

“What an awesome event,” Cooksey said of the Lady of Legends race. “It’s hard to put it into words. It’s just awesome for them to put it together and for Pimlico and the Maryland Jockey Club to go way, way, far above and beyond for a cause which is very dear to my heart. I’m just so excited.

“That’s what’s so special about it, being a breast cancer survivor and bringing awareness to breast cancer and, hopefully, giving women who are either newly diagnosed or have just been recently diagnosed, or are 20-year survivors, that life doesn’t end with a diagnosis,” she continued.

“There’s always hope and there’s always a new day, and you just have to make the most of each one.”

Cooksey has been taking her comeback seriously. She will ride Cleric, a 4-year-old gelding trained by Chris Grove for owner Dogwood Stable. The 4-year-old son of Vicar is coming off a 3 1/2 -length win at Pimlico May 1.

“Are you kidding me? I’ve been working my tail off,” Cooksey said. “I can see me not doing anything and then falling off and blowing the whole thing. I hired a trainer, lost 10 pounds, getting solid as a rock, and am finding my balance. Just getting back on horses, the first one it was a little rocky up there.

“I’ve had to work very hard but I’ll tell you what, it’s been an awesome journey for me, mentally, physically and spiritually to work through this. It’s been great.”

The Lady Legends For the Cure race contains seven other awesome women: Andrea Seefeldt Knight, the only other woman to ride in the Preakness (Looming-1994); Barbara Jo Rubin, who made history as the first woman to win in a pari-mutuel race in the United States; and Mary Russ Tortora, the first female rider to win a grade I race. The four other riders are Gwen Jocson, Jennifer Rowland Small, Cheryl White, and Mary Wiley Wagner. The last mentioned is also a breast cancer survivor and was among the nation’s top apprentice jockeys in 1983.

Lady Legends female jocks work horses together May 13 at Pimlico with Barbara Jo Rubin, in front, PJ Cooksey, left, and Cheryl White (center/white bridle), photo by Anne Eberhardt Keogh

Lady Legends on the Pimlico backstretch during Preakness week, From left: Barbara Jo Rubin, P.J. Cooksey, Mary Russ, photo by Jerry Dzierwinski

Like Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day, Pimlico has partnered with Susan G. Komen for the Cure to raised funds to raise funds and aid awareness for breast cancer. The track has pledged to raise a minimum of $100,000 for the cause, which is pretty cool.

So who are you rooting for? Will you watch the race on HRTV? If you don’t have a particular interest in this race, do you have any other favorite women riders? Tell me who they are and why they’re impressive.

Whoever you’re rooting for, if you are at Pimlico on Preakness Day, make sure you wear pink to support Susan G. Komen!

Here’ s a look at the complete field for the $30,000 Lady Legends for the Cure, which is the fourth race on the card, and is slated to go off at 1:45 p.m:

Race Four, Pimlico, $30,000, 3-year-olds and up, Six furlongs, 1:45 p.m.
Post Position, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Odds
1. Temperance Time, J. Small, 124, 20-1
2. Cleric, P. Cooksey, 124, 5-1
3. Honor in Peace,  G. Jocson, 113, 3-1
4. Mass Destruction, M. Wagner, 118, 10-1
5. Rasher, M.  Tortora, 116, 5-2
6. Brogue, B. Rubin, 124, 6-1
7. Chapel of Love, A. Seefeldt, 123, 4-1
8. Agave Ridge, C. White, 128, 15-1


Leave a Comment:


Thanks for a great article and photos!  I have so much admiration for these women - first for the milestones and things they accomplished in their careers before they retired, but to come out of retirement and get ready to ride again for this cause is amazing.  I hope they all win the race because they have already won it in my book.

13 May 2010 5:15 PM

What a great idea!

I admit, I will be rooting for Rubin.  When I was a little girl, I saw her on TV and told my parents I wanted to be a jockey, too.  That didn't happen, but I love the sport!

13 May 2010 10:45 PM
Golden Gate

Thank you for the great write up. I am really looking forward to this race. I met P.J. Cooksie at Keeneland with my kid where she was demonstrating and letting kids ride on one of Pincays equisizer horses for Breakfast with the Jockeys day.

She was very nice to everyone. I hope she wins too and that all ther riders have a great time. I love the pic of them showing off their biceps--lol

13 May 2010 10:46 PM
Golden Gate

oops I meant P.J. Cooksey was setting children on one of Frankie Lovato's equicizer horses.

13 May 2010 10:51 PM
Ken Woodall

I'm rooting for and betting on all the longshots!!

13 May 2010 10:54 PM

This is a fine idea - just wish Kathy Kusner, Tuesday Testa & Robyn Smith were there to participate.

14 May 2010 2:31 AM

This is such a great story! Way to go to all the ladies and hopes for a clean and safe trip on Friday!

14 May 2010 6:22 AM

Ok, I will be rooting for all of them!  After 25 years in the business, I can say that all the gals touched our lives in one respect or another. Barbara Jo Rubin, whose story was told in "The Lady Is A Jock", the first book I ever actually read cover to cover when in my teens. It amazed me the fight those gals did just to ride horses.  Patty Cooksey, an incredible athlete as a jockey, has gone on to other areas of the sport to be just as useful in those areas as she was a jockey.  The first time I saw her on the TV commentating for a local Louisville channel, I was amazed how easy it came to her, along with her work for the Kentucky Horse Racing Board.

Mary Russ, as I knew, rode Lord Darley, back in the 80's to win the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream.  In the 80's I lived, breathed, slept horse racing so I was so impressed at Roger Laurin, one of my favorite trainers, to have put Mary on a top horse!

Working for several years in California, I met Cheryl White one winter, while I had a string of babies for Paco Gonzalez.  Cheryl got on some horses for me,

a hard working Mom, it was never beneath her to grab a pitch fork if someone didn't show up. She is a true class act and when her name comes up, I am honored to say I know her.  And finally Gwen Jocson, I met in Hot Springs, AR.  She was galloping for John Servis down there and I remember seeing her name frequently, while riding at Garden State and Phila Park. A great gal who I would match up with any guy in the sport!  She is gritty and has no fear in the mornings or afternoons. She amazed me, watching her gallop any tough horse with strength and finesse, and can turn it around the next set and breeze one 5/8ths like she never walked away from the Jocks Room.

Ok, so those are who I will be rooting for....No, I will be rooting for all!  

14 May 2010 6:39 AM
thomas owen

i represent jockey rosemary homeister jr., who last july passed patti cooksey as the 2nd most winning female jockey in united states racing. rosemary has been ommitted from the 2,000 win club by this blog author who doesn't even list his name on the article. patti cooksey is indeed a rockstar, but the facts should be known that there are 3 females jockeys that win over 2,000 races. at least have the facts straight when you write an article, whover you are.

1. julie krone

2. rosemary homeister jr.

3. patti cooksey

14 May 2010 7:58 AM
Carlos n

I got to know A. Seefeldt back in the 80's when I was in Maryland,I always like her stile as a rider and as a person,so I will be rooting for her.

14 May 2010 8:08 AM

Nice article except Rosie Homemeister is 2nd to Julie Krone in total victories with well over 2,000 , and will dominate the Colonial Downs meet this summer

14 May 2010 8:57 AM

As a breast cancer survivor I appreciate the active role Horse racing is playing in supporting Susan Komen foundation. I'm so impressed by these women jockeys

that come back to ride.  I know one of the most important things I did after my surgery was to get back on my horse. "the outside of a Horse is good for the inside of a Woman".

14 May 2010 9:25 AM

Esther, I always enjoy your stories and love the great pictures you always include; this story is another great one!  Thank you for bringing attention to this awesome race which showcases champion women jockeys.  While I'll have to miss the live viewing of the race, I plan to catch it the replay.  One of my favorite female jockeys actively riding the circuit right now is Chantal Sutherland.  She's a tough cookie on the track but always looks like a lady when she's away from the track.  My husband thinks she's awesome and always looks for her when she's riding at either Santa Anita or Woodbine.  This topic brought up another question I'd love to know the answer to - has there ever been a female track announcer?  If so, who?  If not, why?

14 May 2010 10:13 AM
kelso fan

Re: Rosemary Homeister - either the blog author went back and corrected the article or it was there already in the 4th paragraph?

I'll be rooting for Patti Cooksey as I remember her career so well and she is paired with Cleric from Dogwood - one of my favorite barns and an ownership group that is always supportive.

14 May 2010 11:53 AM
steve from st louis

What is so amazing about all these women is that horseracing is the only sport where men and women compete on the same level playing field. Unlike golf, there are no "women's tees" in racing, no "head start". And please don't compare NASCAR's Danica Patrick--to me, operating a machine is not a sport. Safe trip to all.

14 May 2010 12:17 PM

Thomas, The writer mentions Rosemary in the 4th verse . Remember this is about retired female jockeys. I also think Rosemary is one of the best today.

14 May 2010 8:00 PM

I thought the ladies did a wonderful job. Mary russ looked liked she never stopped ridding. She looks better than most men on a horse.

15 May 2010 2:29 PM
Hillsdale fan

What about Diane Crump?

15 May 2010 8:34 PM

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