Robyn Smith #3

In this part of an interview with renowned jockey Robyn Smith, the details of her personal and professional life are explored further as she compares her present time in retirement with her horse racing past. Smith discusses the rigorous and solitary daily routine of her time as a jockey, as well as her adjustment into retired life, giving more in-depth analysis of the beginnings of her career, her aversion to the press, and the people that have helped her along the way.

00:00Copy video clip URL Color bars.

00:14Copy video clip URL A medium shot of Robyn Smith in the stands of a racetrack as she delves deeper into her motivations for becoming a jockey. Her obsession with the sport trumped naysayers’ attempts to deter her from horse racing as a career. “I never had anyone encourage me. But I couldn’t help myself; it was just something I was supposed to do in life, and I feel so lucky that I got the opportunity to do it. I just wish I could have done it the rest of my life.”

00:58Copy video clip URL Though some may find the jockey’s life lonely, Smith remarks that it was more than tolerable. Not having been overly social, she states that she was never fond of attending social engagements and enjoys her alone time, which made the solitary, fairly secluded life of a jockey a natural fit for her. She goes on to describe her daily routine in her riding days, which involved waking up at 3 A.M., working until the afternoon, and going to bed in the evening while the sun was still up. Though she realized that this routine was not commonplace for the average person, she never felt unhappy about it, saying, “It wasn’t a sad thing for me to do . . .  it was happy because I was doing what I wanted.”

02:13Copy video clip URL Smith comments on the rumor of her reputation as being a difficult interviewee. She clarifies that she’d had to turn interviewers away in the past, as her obligations to riding, not rudeness, kept her too busy to take any time to address all the press she’d been getting. Smith turned down commercials and opportunities to ride overseas as well, being apprehensive about taking time off, as she would likely lose her mounts. As a result, Smith says, she did not do many interviews, which led to writers’ and interviewers’ reluctance to speak to her.

04:02Copy video clip URL Smith talks about her regrets from the past, specifically in regards to her hesitancy to race in other countries. Although she feels she may have missed an opportunity, her horses in New York were incredibly important to her, and Smith wonders whether she would have won as many stakes with them had she left.

04:46Copy video clip URL Smith distinguishes between Allen Jerkens and Alfred Vanderbilt, two of the top trainers in racing at the time, who helped advance her career greatly. Allen Jerkens, Smith says, was the man who essentially gave her her start in horse racing at a time when she was given very little opportunity to ride. After working with Jerkens for a year, he let Smith race one of his horses, which won, leading her to ride his other horses and win other races. “If anyone is responsible for my success, it would be Allen Jerkens.” She goes on to state that, although Alfred Vanderbilt did not race her until she was one of the top jockeys in New York, it was Vanderbilt that allowed her to win her first stake.

06:08Copy video clip URL Smith disagrees with the notion that anybody can truly be taught to ride a horse. In riding, she says, there is a certain natural ability one needs to be accustomed with in order to be successful. Achievement in horse racing, she says, can be attributed to these instinctual inclinations, which some possess and others do not.

06:39Copy video clip URL Audible airplane noise interrupts Robyn Smith’s last comment on the previous question.

06:57Copy video clip URL Having been retired from horse racing for a number of years, Smith describes her adjustment from the all-encompassing world of jockeying to retirement. She also describes the ways in which she occupies her time, as well as a few hobbies she’s picked up, from tennis to golf.

07:42Copy video clip URL Smith continues to discuss her life as a retiree, speaking about her home life, which she describes as “very happy.” She states that her husband, Fred Astaire, is at the forefront of her life at the present time. “[Fred Astaire] gives me more love than I’ve ever had in my entire life, and nothing beats that.” She reiterates her feeling that the ideal situation for her would be to be able to continue her career as a jockey while maintaining the same constant contact with her husband, though she maintains that this would be impossible at her age.

08:34Copy video clip URL Though she runs between 5-7 miles every day, Smith speaks of her distaste for running in general, though conversely, she states that she feels guilty when she doesn’t run. “If I don’t run, I don’t feel well.”

10:24Copy video clip URL Smith explains that her love of racing, not money, was what led her to become a jockey. “The money was never important to me. . . I would have paid to ride!”  She recalls a number of instances where she felt sorry for certain horse trainers, so much so that if the horse she rode didn’t perform well, Smith would refund the trainer their money.

12:03Copy video clip URL Smith talks about how at a certain point in time, it seemed impossible for her to become a jockey, as no woman had ever been permitted a license to ride horses on the racetrack. The next logical career choice, she thought, was to become an actress, due to her love of performing. Acting did not seem to be a natural fit for her, she says, as she was motivated by the prospect of making a good living off of it rather than a love of the craft. She muses that, being retired, she would take an acting job if a good part found its way to her, such as playing herself in her own life story.

13:18Copy video clip URL Being retired for over five years, Smith contends that she feels “a little useless” after being so incredibly active for most of her life as a jockey, and is now trying to find a substitute for the hole that racing has left in her life. Though she says that she is seeking an activity to occupy her time, she does not want to take up something that will interfere with her home life with Fred Astaire, with whom she spends the bulk of her time. “I’m with him now practically 24 hours a day, and I never grow tired of him.” It is for this reason that she is wary of getting into acting, where it is possible for her to be on-location for months at a time. As an alternative, she suggests that she wouldn’t mind doing a commercial.

14:49Copy video clip URL Smith explains why she did not get into horse training after her jockeying career, which many assumed she would, having a natural rapport with horses. “I don’t want to spend my life on the racetrack in any other way than riding.”

15:30Copy video clip URL End of tape.



  1. Nadine Lynn Lanier says:

    I love this interview. I did the same kind of schedule and had the same kind of determination when I was becoming a poet. And I’m very happy being mostly alone. I love my alone time. It is so important to me and my rejuvenation.

  2. Nadine Lanier says:

    Also, the destiny and obsessive aspect were also true for me, and also having no encouragement because what does poetry pay? Most people wondered what I was doing in a field which paid zero. And I would also take classes at a university a good two hours drive there and two hours drive back. Nothing could stop me, though I did not reach the same heights . . . yet.

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