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

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