Jul 23, 2009

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better


So, I have been traipsing from room to room with my lovely National Geographic horse book, trying to decide what to write about next on my blog. And right there, on page 16 is a photo of a woman in jockey silks, weighing in. The first time I saw it I did a literal double-take. Mind, this book was published in 1923, so it was a bit shocking to me to think that women jockeys existed prior to the 1960s. There's no context for the photo, no commentary. It's as if the authors randomly put it in at the last minute, like "What? What's the big deal?! Girl jockeys, they're totally everywhere."

The funny thing is that they're not. Run a Google search. Go ahead, I'm waiting. Seriously, there are slim findings when you run any permutation of girl, woman, female, jockey. You come up with the biggies the the latter part of the century, but what about this woman? The one staring out at me from page 16?! Clearly some women, somewhere were racing horses.

So, that was the start of the fact-finding mission yesterday that caused me to waste several hours of my afternoon. But the important thing is that it bore fruit, in the digging up of a couple of names of female jockeys prior to the 1960s.

The first was the first female jockey ever recorded, Alicia Meynell, in 1804. Hell yeah, I said 1804. It all started entirely by accident, as she was out for a leisurely ride through the country with her sister's husband (ahhh, yes, doing things with a sibling's spouse has been the cause of many an argument in my own personal life) when they quarreled about who had the better horse. Apparently, they decided to answer that question on the spot, and Alicia emerged victorious. The brother-in-law's ego was quite bruised and he, of course, challenged her to a 'real' re-match at a proper track. (As a sidenote: this totally sounds like the set-up for a Harlequin romance, doesn't it? And it totally gets better. I'm serious, any romance authors, you need to be on this.) In kind of the best part of the story, which I am hoping is true and if it isn't, then don't spoil the awesomeness of this fantasy, Alicia turns up to the match, "in a dress designed to look like leopard-skin, with blue sleeves, a buff-colored vest and a blue cap." Okay, so she loses the race, but COME ON. Obviously she was fabulous and totally before her time. She was made for Dynasty. She did race again and won, again dressed fabulously. You HAVE to read the whole story here, in Sports Illustrated. She's pretty much my hero now.

So, if that's too much of a silly, romance-worthy story for you, then I present my next subject, Wantha Davis. She, too, was equally fabulous in a less obviously girly way. This woman raced in TB & QH tracks from Tijuana to Vancouver throughout the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Her application for a license were repeatedly denied in state after state, despite winning over 500 races and against some prestigious male jockeys. Check this snippet out: "In 1949 thousands of spectators crossed the border from San Diego to Agua Caliente, Mexico, to watch her outrace the great Hall of Famer Johnny Longden by a length and three-quarters in a six furlong match race. The three-time national champion was so mad he yanked off his tack and refused to weigh out. Hall of Famer Glen Lasswell was also defeated by her at Agua Caliente, as was Hall of Fame rider Basil James in Nebraska." KICK ASS.

But mainly, without a license, she was relegated to the terrifyingly rough-and-tumble backwoods tracks, where I am hugely impressed that she thrived and had a solid career, despite what I imagine were majorly tough circumstances. You can read about her at her website. She has some awesome photos here, and if you don't look at anything else, you have to see this phenomenal video of her at Ladies' Day for the 9th Pimlico Classic.

There are more, but I won't tax your eyes and just stick with these gals today.

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