all in Legends

At the end of the month, the 50th annual Eclipse Awards will be presented. There are 17 categories, for both humans and horses, to determine the best in Thoroughbred racing each year.

One such category is the Eclipse Award for outstanding apprentice jockey. The award has been presented every year since the first ceremony in 1971, and has been won by 50 different riders in that stretch (there was a tie in 1997). It’s the equivalent of a Rookie of the Year award in other sports, and many of its recipients have gone on to achieve great success in the saddle.

More than 250 years ago, a total solar eclipse swept across Great Britain. It was on that day — April 1, 1764 — and during the eclipse itself that a horse was born at Cranbourne Lodge. Arriving as he did during such a rare, celestial event, the horse was named Eclipse, and through his achievements on the track and at stud, he would ensure that the name Eclipse would never be forgotten.

It is indeed an extraordinary path that leads from a childhood home in Artemis, Ky., that lacked indoor plumbing to being hosted by the Queen of England for high tea. And yet that is the uncommon road traveled by award-winning owner and breeder Ken Ramsey.

“That just don’t happen except through horses,” said Ramsey, with an accent that speaks to his roots. “It kind of levels the playing field is what I’m trying to say.”

Michael Blowen glanced at the 1977 Sports Illustrated cover of Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew when it arrived in the mail and immediately discarded it. A horse on the cover of such a prominent magazine?

“I thought thinking of them as athletes was absurd,” he said.

Blowen, then a writer for the Boston Globe, accompanied Bob Taylor, one of his editors, to Suffolk Downs seven years later. The visit to the Massachusetts track was life-changing.

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.

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