Robyn Smith #1

An interview with Robyn Smith, the famed jockey. As the one of the first females to race horses professionally, she touches on her jockeying career and the struggles she had encountered throughout it. Smith also discusses her passion for riding, the debate over whether it is the jockey or the horse that wins the race, and the politics and biases of the horse racing world.

00:00Copy video clip URL Color bars

00:52Copy video clip URL Close up on Robyn Smith in the stands of a racetrack, who describes what it’s like to race a horse and the feeling of impending victory. “There’s no feeling like it…it’s absolutely a wonderful feeling.”

02:00Copy video clip URL Smith talks about her awareness of the crowd during the moments before winning a race. “I was never too aware of the crowd, unless I was five or ten lengths in front, and then you can just enjoy the ride from the quarter pull to the wire.”

02:34Copy video clip URL Smith discusses retirement and the preparations she took for it once she reached a certain age. Despite her intense love of horseback riding, she says, she knew it was time to end her career. “I loved riding so much that nothing will ever compare to it in my life, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be just as happy now as when I was riding.”

03:27Copy video clip URL Smith alludes to her marriage with Fred Astaire, comparing her present life to her earlier years riding horses. She states that although she loves both periods of her life, she is just as happy as she’s ever been. “I couldn’t have both. If I had my choice of having a horse win for me every day on the racetrack or living with the man that I do now, I would probably take my life now, but I wish I could have both.”

04:17Copy video clip URL Smith explains what it was about horse racing that attracted her to it. The number one aspect, she explains, was the horse itself. A deep love of horses and a desire for acceleration was what ultimately made the strongest impression on her. “It was nice to make a living at the same time while I was having so much fun.”

05:25Copy video clip URL Smith discusses the physical characteristics of jockeys, why size is important for a jockey in relation to the horse’s performance, how she stood out from the other jockeys. “I went to New York, and I was always the tallest jockey. I had the biggest foot, everything a woman is not supposed to have over a man, I seemed to.”

05:40Copy video clip URL Smith is not sure what to make of the theory that jockeys are “the strongest of all athletes.” She explains how she believes that winning a race has to do with a symbiotic relationship between the rider and the horse. The strength of the horse, she says, is equally, if not more important than the strength of the jockey. She also states that winning races involves a lot more than simple strength or power; communication is key.  “I always claim that it’s not the strength on a horse that wins races, it’s finesse and communication with your animal.” She goes on to comment on the nature of athleticism and fitness in general as they relate to racing and other sports, claiming that all athletes must be strong to perform, and that jockeys are not necessarily stronger than any other athlete.

07:03Copy video clip URL Smith attempts to describe what it takes to race a horse and the specific ways in which a jockey must be trained to handle the animal. Though some of the time a jockey’s work is physical, she says, much of the time a horse will only race to the best of his ability if the jockey keeps him happy.

07:54Copy video clip URL Smith states that she believes that horses are smart animals in general, though, like people,  their intelligence may vary from one to another.  “I hear they’ve been called ‘dumb animals.’ I don’t think they’re dumb at all…although I have been on some dumb horses. But I’ve known some dumb people, too!”

08:30Copy video clip URL Smith questions whether or not it is the jockey or the horse that’s instrumental in winning a race. Being from the school of thought that the horses win the races and not the jockeys, Smith talks about why she believes that the “top jockeys” are known as “top jockeys” not because of their winning percentage, but because they have good agents. “If you have ten top jockeys, I don’t think there’s an ounce of difference between them.”

10:04Copy video clip URL Smith discusses the progression of her career and the difficulties she experienced all through it. Acquiring mounts was especially difficult, having been unable to select the horses she wanted to ride. This she attributes to possible gender bias amid the horse racing world. Smith continues on this train of thought, comparing the physical attributes of male and female jockeys, but states that she does not believe that women will ever be fully welcomed into professional horse racing. She states that most people are inclined to believe that because men are physically stronger, only males should be jockeys, but Smith purports that physical strength is far from the only component involved in being a jockey.

12:50Copy video clip URL Smith explains that her determination and reputation of being ‘the hardest-working jockey’ was most likely due to her obsession with the sport itself. ” I never considered it as work; it was fun.”

14:06Copy video clip URL Concerning the quality of horses she was given to ride, Smith says that she was mostly given ‘reject’ horses that other agents didn’t want. These horses were not considered contenders for first place, and Smith posits that her percentage of winning horses would have been much higher, had she been given higher-quality horses.

14:37Copy video clip URL Smith says that her problems in horse racing were not with the horse trainers, but with the owners, who believed that a male jockey would have finished in a higher place with their horse than she did, when in many cases the opposite was true.

16:02Copy video clip URL Smith declares that the number one most crucial factor in winning races is to have a talented agent, as they work with trainers and owners to acquire mounts for jockeys. Smith explains that she always had a difficult time finding a good agent, and was therefore was unable to ride as many quality horses as she would have liked.

16:56 Smith discusses the impact she had on breaking the gender barrier in horse racing, although the sport still remains to be dominated almost entirely by men. She tells about a group of women that, because of the impact Smith’s career had on the sport, were able to acquire mounts, but ended up struggling with the same problems Smith did.

17:24Copy video clip URL An anecdote/story about the one time in her career that Smith was able to acquire a top agent. Though he only took her on for a few months, in that short time, her winning percentage was second only to hall-of-fame rider Angel Cordero. After two or three months, the agent dropped her in favor of another jockey, and Smith was back where she started. “I was happy to get a little taste of what it was like to have an agent. It made my job so much easier.”

18:21Copy video clip URL End of tape.

 

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