Brilliant Women in U.S. Horse Racing History

Racing Hall of Fame rider Julie Krone, left, and pioneer Diane Crump, right, are two important women in Thoroughbred racing. (Equi-Photo-BloodHorse/Jim Raftery-Turfotos)

Although horse racing remains a largely male-dominated world, women continue to break down barriers as jockeys, trainers, owners, and breeders.

Here are a few notable women who played a role in shaping the sport of kings in the United States.

Laska Durnell — In 1904, Durnell became the first woman to own a Kentucky Derby starter and winner with Elwood. Elwood was the first Derby runner owned by a woman and also the first bred by a woman, Mrs. J.B. Prather.

Kathy Kusner — In 1968, U.S. Olympic equestrian Kusner became the first licensed female jockey after she sued the Maryland Racing Commission for denying her application for a jockey’s license based on gender. She later rode on the east coast and in Canada and became the first licensed female jockey to ride races in Mexico, Germany, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Panama, and South Africa. Kusner earned a silver medal at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, to become the first woman to medal in an equestrian competition.

Crump before her first career race. (Jim Raftery/Turfotos)

Diane Crump In 1969, she became the first female jockey to ride in a pari-mutuel race when she rode Bridle ’n Bit on Feb. 7 at Hialeah Park. Crump wasn’t the first female to try, however. Penny Ann Early had been granted a license in 1968, but she was denied three times when male jockeys boycotted the race to keep her from competing. Crump also became the first female jockey to compete in the Kentucky Derby, finishing 15th aboard Fathom in 1970.

Barbara Jo Rubin In 1969, 19-year-old Rubin became the first woman to win a pari-mutuel race held at a nationally recognized U.S. racetrack when she rode Cohesion to a half-length victory Feb. 22 at Charles Town. She subsequently became the first female rider to win a race in New York.

Cheryl White — On June 15, 1971, White became the first licensed African American woman jockey to ride in the U.S., and on Sept. 2 at Waterford Park she earned her first win aboard Jetolara. After an accomplished riding career competing in Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, Arabian, Paint, and Appaloosa races, White passed the California Horse Racing Board’s steward examination in 1991 and subsequently served as a racing official at multiple racetracks in several different capacities.

Patricia “P.J.” Cooksey This trailblazing jockey began a 26-year career in 1979, won her first race with Turf Advisor at old Waterford Park (now Mountaineer), and amassed 2,137 victories in her time as a jockey. In 1985, she became the second woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby and the first female jockey to compete in the Preakness, finishing sixth on Tajawa.

Julie Krone In 1993, she became the first woman to win a Triple Crown race when riding Colonial Affair to victory in the Belmont Stakes, and in 2003 Krone became the first woman to win a Breeders’ Cup race when she rode Halfbridled to victory in the Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita Park. The all-time leader among female riders by victories (3,704) and purse earnings ($90.1 million), Krone was the first woman inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2000.

Barton Brothers shares a laugh with Victor Espinoza after he won the Breeders' Cup Classic aboard American Pharoah.
Barton Brothers shares a laugh with Victor Espinoza after he won the Breeders' Cup Classic aboard American Pharoah. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Donna Barton Brothers — She is one of the most decorated female jockeys of her time, retiring in 1998 with 1,130 wins and more than $18.6 million in purse earnings after following in the footsteps of her mother, Patti. She was the second-leading money earner of all time among women at the time of her retirement. Barton Brothers used her talent on horseback to shift careers to on-track reporter in 2000, and she covers marquee events as an award-winning television journalist for NBC Sports.

Rosie Napravnik — In 2012, Napravik became the first woman to win the Kentucky Oaks when she guided Believe You Can to victory. She became in 2013 the first female rider to compete in all of the Triple Crown races in the same season, and became the highest-placing woman rider in the Kentucky Derby when she finished fifth aboard Mylute. Napravnik was the first woman to ride multiple Breeders’ Cup winners. She won the leading jockey title at Fair Grounds every year from 2011 to 2014 and topped the fall meet standings at Keeneland in 2013 and 2014.

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