Women Riders Building Winning Culture at Oaklawn Park

Kelsi Harr became the all-time leading earner among women riders at Oaklawn Park on Jan. 29. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Oaklawn Park is one of the prominent meets in the country with multiple talented women in the jockey colony. This season, Kelsi Harr, Chel-c Bailey, Lindsey Hebert, Kylee Jordan, and Mickaelle Michel have brought their tack to the Hot Springs, Ark. oval, and the crew is outgrowing the room designated for female riders.

Kelsi Harr

Harr (Coady Photography)

This is Harr’s fifth season at Oaklawn, making her the veteran (slightly) of the group. Saturday, she became the all-time leader in purse earnings among female jockeys at the track, surpassing the $2,792,644 record set by Cindy Murphy.

“My hat is off to Cindy,” Harr said. “She is tougher than nails, and she did it the hard way when the money was not as good as it is now. To even be classified anywhere near her is amazing to me.”

Harr, 30, was Oaklawn’s leading apprentice jockey in 2020. Last season, she became the first female jockey in Oaklawn history to earn more than $1 million at a meet.

“I was the only one in the room a lot of the time at when I first started,” she said. “It was a little lonely. I love having more women in the room. The camaraderie is awesome.”

Harr has been reading books about the women who paved the way and the opposition they experienced. She finished “Racing with My Shadow,” by Karen Rogers. She is currently reading a book about Diane Crump, and she has a Julie Krone book to read next.

“Those ladies definitely inspired me for sure,” Harr said. “For them to still have the guts and the want-to after what they experienced, they inspire me big time.”

Chel-c Bailey

Bailey's first win in February 2020 at Oaklawn (Coady Photography)

Chel-c Bailey was a college wrestler and an MMA fighter before she became a jockey. She was Oaklawn’s 2021-’22 champion apprentice. During this season, Bailey had her first career six-figure victory and first career riding triple. One aspect of horse racing she appreciates is that it is one of the few sports where men and women are on the same competitive field.

“When I present myself or I meet people, I am a jockey. I am not a female jockey.”

However, like wrestling and MMA, horse racing is a sport that has few women in it.

“We have to be supportive and help each other out,” Bailey said. “I have a lot of women who have given me chances because they know what it’s like being a woman in a male-dominated sport.”

She named trainers like Roddina Barrett, Karyn Wittek, Ingrid Mason, Chelsey Moysey, Lynn Chleborad, and Sherry Rhea.

Bailey said she does look at tracks to see if women are doing well there and if they are getting a shot.

“Females at Oaklawn have had some level of success and a shot. I think that’s one reason women are being drawn to come here.”

Lindsey Hebert

Hebert exercising Major Fed in 2020 at Churchill Downs. (Coady Photography)

Lindsey Hebert got her start in racing when she was 17, cleaning stalls and halter-breaking yearlings and 2-year-olds. She spent three years galloping horses before taking out her jockey’s license, which she got at Oaklawn. Harr helped her get started.

“Kelsi was there for me when I first came into the jocks’ room,” Hebert said. “She showed me how to put on all my gear. She is cool, down-to-earth, and kind-hearted. She has been doing well here for several years. That set things up for other girls to come.”

Bacarra Rice Pettis is a retired jockey who also mentored Hebert.

“Over the years she has given me a lot of good advice and she’s helped me get opportunities.

Her husband is an assistant trainer to Genaro Garcia, and they travel in an RV where work takes them. Hebert says being a jockey is very tough physically and mentally.

“It’s a big surprise to see as many as we have, but it’s great. I’m super-excited to have all the girls.”

Kylee Jordan

Jordan on opening day at Oaklawn. (Coady Photography)

Kylee Jordan grew up at Prairie Meadows Racetrack with her father, trainer Todd Jordan, who runs a small operation in the summers and works as a plumber during the winter.

Last year was Kylee Jordan’s first full year of horse racing. She was the leading rider at Will Rogers Downs and Prairie Meadows, where she booted home 81 winners, including four juvenile stakes with Tyler’s Tribe. She then piloted him in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint. This is her second year at Oaklawn.

She was inspired by Cindy Murphy, whose record Harr just exceeded. Murphy rode for Jordan’s dad in Iowa. 

“I haven’t been in a jockey room with a ton of girls before,” Jordan said. “It’s pretty exciting to know that the girls’ jock colony is growing. That they’re getting a lot of mounts. There are still people who don’t like to put girls on mounts, but it’s exciting to see how much the game has changed.”

Jordan said that, in addition to riding Tyler’s Tribe, her best moments as a jockey include winning for her dad. She is also excited about a win on a 60-1 longshot that occurred earlier this month.  

Mickaelle Michel

Michel's first U.S. win in July 2022 at Ellis Park. (Coady Photography)

French jockey Mickaelle Michel has ridden in 12 countries, won races in eight and stakes in four. Her resume includes being France’s champion apprentice in 2018 and, in 2020, winning 30 races in Japan and a Group 2 race in Italy. She decided to come to the United States last year, and she made her first start in May at Churchill Downs.

At Churchill, she started working with Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who suggested she come to Oaklawn. Among the horses Michel began working for Lukas was Secret Oath, the 2022 multiple Oaklawn stakes winner/Kentucky Oaks winner. Michel also began securing mounts for Lukas in the afternoon.

“I am so happy to come here and get confidence and learn from a trainer like him,” Michel said.

Michel said her female peers work hard and are very motivated.

“Often, when trainers meet us, they see the female and not the jockey. We work really hard to be strong and prove our place.”

She knew Bailey from Kentucky, and Bailey introduced her in the jockeys’ room. Michel said they enjoy each of the good races that come from the group.

“When one girl wins, all of us win,” she said.

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