History paves way for Ladies Night at the Downs


Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/7/2019 (203 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

On May 16, 1969, in the first race of the season at Assiniboia Downs, Barbara Jo Rubin became the first female jockey ever to ride here. The crowd was huge and the premier of Manitoba was in attendance. Rubin won, the fans went nuts, and the rest is history.

Seriously, Rubin is one of the major reasons that thousands of female jockeys worldwide, including our own Kayla Pizarro, are riding regularly and winning races. Rubin smashed the gender barrier.

Earlier that year, on Feb. 22, Rubin had become the first female jockey ever to win a race at a recognized racetrack in the United States, when she won at Charles Town in West Virginia on a horse named Cohesian. And that was only after court cases and episodes of male jockeys boycotting the races because a female was named on a mount. And even after she started winning, male jockeys and fans gave her little respect.

“At Pimlico, somebody told me to go home and cook spaghetti,” Rubin said in a 1969 Newsday article.

It’s now been more than 50 years since Rubin won at Assiniboia Downs, and with Ladies (Day) Night at the races on Saturday, it’s nice to be able to recognize her for what she accomplished. There will be drink specials, prize draws and very likely some fancy dressers. Ladies Day is celebrated similarly in other industries, but it’s also the perfect time to recognize a few of the female stars at Assiniboia Downs.

Jockey Kayla Pizarro is the most well known of the female set currently competing here.

The 28-year-old Winnipeg-born jockey won the 2016 Sovereign Award as Outstanding Apprentice in Canada and has become a perennial top-5 jockey at the Downs. Pizarro has won with 15 per cent of her career mounts and finished in the top three 47 per cent of the time, compiling a record of 124-122-157 from 850 mounts for purse earnings of $968,771. She should go over the $1-million mark in purses this year. The only other female jockey currently taking mounts at Assiniboia Downs is Nicole Disdier, who rode a few horses earlier in the meet. The story is quite a bit different on the trainer side.

Shelley Brown is the most recognizable name on the trainer list as the only female trainer ever to win the title here in 2012. Jamie Hartmann recently won her 100th race as a trainer and is really just starting to get rolling in what should be a long career. Other female trainers here include Lise Pruitt, Lorna Gray, Tiffany Husbands, Heather Wallerstedt, Marion Johnston, Donna Johnston, Penny Hulme, Maria Stanford, Jennifer Jordan, Verla Olito and Jennifer Malaterre. In the ’60s, you would have been lucky to find one female trainer on the grounds.

And behind the scenes, we’ve got people such as Sharon Gulyas, the vice-president of finance and gaming at Assiniboia Downs, who has been one of the major driving forces behind the success of the Downs for decades, and Marg Homenuik, the only woman on the Manitoba Horse Racing Commission Board, deservedly so.

A Hall of Fame golfer, Homenuik excelled in everything she tried, and that included winning more than 800 races in her second career as a standardbred trainer.

A trip to the local barn area in the 1980s revealed Marg to be one of the best caretakers of horses we had ever seen. And guess who worked for her before she became leading trainer here? Shelley Brown.

Historical threads are so important in this game.

Pizarro has three mounts on Ladies Day, and she knows there have been many who blazed the trail just so she could have the opportunity. Barbara Jo Rubin was one of the first, but we also have to remember Hall of Famer Joan Phipps, who rode here in the early 1970s and went on to become the first female ever to beat the boys in a race in New Zealand. She beat 19 of them on a longshot named Daphalee in the Te Hinemoa Handicap and opened the doors for female riders in that country and Australia.

Two more famous females, both now Hall of Famers who rode at Assiniboia Downs, are Vicki Baze, who became the only female ever to win the jockey title at the Downs in 2010, and Julie Krone, the first and only female jockey to win the Manitoba Derby here in 1988 aboard No Malice. Krone went on to become the only female ever to win a Triple Crown race when she won the 1993 Belmont Stakes aboard Colonial Affair.

“I’m just happy that those ladies back then paved the way for me,” Pizarro said. “If it wasn’t for them standing up against the boys I wouldn’t be here. I’m just a girl who loves horses.”

And that’s worth cheering for.



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