Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hitting the ground running

Jockey's had fair share of ups and downs at Assiniboia Downs

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Thoroughbred racing is one of the few sports, if not the only one, where men and women compete against one another on an equal basis.

 

Considering they are on the backs of 1,500-pound animals, charging around at approximately 40 m.p.h. in close proximity to each other, it could be argued that jockeys are among the toughest athletes on the planet.

Female jockeys have done well, especially at Assiniboia Downs where Vicky Baze won the riding title last year and Janine Stianson was third.

It's an axiom that generally men are stronger than women. So what then is the equalizer?

Jocelyne Kenny, a 46-year-old from Portland, Ore., who won nine races in her first eight days at the Downs, thinks it may be that women naturally have more "finesse" than men do in handling horses.

"I think more so with women there's a natural finesse involved," she said. "As opposed to strength, it's how you use your hands, or patience. Not that men don't have it, I just think it's more predominant with women. You'll see a lot of the female riders have got the hands, as we would say."

Kenny, who has 1,928 lifetime starts with 229 wins and $2,037,938 in earnings, is currently sitting in fifth place in the jockey standings at the Downs with 18 wins. David Lopez is first (42), followed by Stianson (27), Rohan Singh (25) and Mark Anderson (22).

"My season has been going OK," said Kenny, who's probably hit the ground more times in the last two months than she has in the last five years. "I've had my share of injuries up here. I had a horse flip in the gate in the morning on me before the break (in June). Then my first day back after the break, I had a horse throw me, and then I had one flip over with me behind the gate and one threw me coming out of the gate."

The most recent incident came on July 9 when her horse, a three-year-old gelding called UR Burning Daylite, flipped over as they were about to enter the starting gate and landed on top of her, sending her to Health Sciences Centre where she was kept overnight.

"It was kind of scary," she recalled. "It happened so fast. It felt like my left knee busted and I couldn't breath, but I caught my breath and my knee is doing better. I am very fortunate. I could have easily broken my hip or a leg."

Kenny took only three days off after being released from hospital.

"I probably pushed it a little bit," she said. "In most circumstances you probably would want to take a week or two off."

For the record, UR Burning Daylite's trainer Ardell Sayler, a nine-time leading trainer at the Downs, said his horse was "OK", but declined to comment on what happened. However, Kenny no longer rides for him. Neither she, nor Sayler, would elaborate on the reason.

Kenny says that in horse racing, injuries come with the job.

"It's not a matter of if it's going to happen, it's a matter of when," she said. "If you talk to riders who have been around long enough, they've all had their share of injuries. It's common, believe me."

Kenny has had to pick herself up off the ground quite a few times since she got her bug in 2001, the same year she broke her neck when a horse down on top of her head, causing her to suffer a compression fracture on her C-4 vertebrae. Since then has added a broken collarbone, dislocated shoulders and as many as five concussions.

allan.besson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 22, 2011 C5

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