On June 17, I journeyed to River Downs to watch a Maiden debut of a different sort. Jessica Oldham Stitc, first graduate of Chris McCarron's North American Racing Academy was making her first start as a professional jockey. Jessica comes from a racing family. She is the daughter of jockey John Oldham who rode at River Downs (overheard in the paddock - "her father rode for me.") and Suzi Picou Oldham, former jockey, equine photographer and bloodstock agent whose father was jockey Clarence Picou.
Chris McCarron checks out his pony. Photo by Christine A. Wittmer
Even early in the card, you could feel the buzz in the air. There was much more excitement than usually found at River on a Tuesday afternoon. For one thing, Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron was signing autographs and posing for pictures. But, Chris wasn't there just to wish his student luck, he had also taken out an exercise rider license so he could pony her to the gate.
Ready to go. Photo by Christine A. Wittmer
As the 6th race finished, the crowd began to gather around the paddock. Family, friends, and fans, wanted to wish Jessica well.
Chris had to go to work first. Everyone wanted photos of him with his pony, but no one helped him up. Undaunted, he used the fence.
Jessica and Chris go to the post. Photo by Christine A. Wittmer
Jessica was riding Greenwood Lady, a 3-year old filly by Greenwood Lake making her 2nd start. Her first start was a 10th place finish at Turfway Park on December 16 2007.
How'd it go out there? Photo by Christine A. Wittmer
Finally, it was riders up and the cameras flashed as Jessica got into the saddle. To the casual observer, Chris seemed to handle his duties well, but apparently he was a bit nervous. Anyway, they made it to the post without incident.
Jessica and Greenwood Lady broke a bit slow, but passed a few to finish a credible 5th. The winner was Explicit Chic ridden by veteran Bonnie Castaneda. I'm sure Bonnie had much less fanfare her first time round the track.
Afterwards, the entire jockey colony (plus Chris) posed for a group photo.
Who knows where Jessica's career will go from here, but it was interesting to be there at the beginning.