Friday, March 19, 2004 12:00 AM
“I want to stand in the winner’s circle again.”
FLORENCE, KY . . . March 19, 2004 . . . Jockey Patricia Cooksey’s career nearly ended April 12, 2003, the day she broke both legs in a frightening, chaotic spill at Keeneland. But Friday night at Turfway Park, just shy of one year later, Cooksey got a leg up in the 10th race, a $35,800 allowance event for fillies and mares. After her fifth-place finish aboard Religious for owner/trainer Garry Simms, Cooksey said, “I knew when I got hurt I wasn’t going to end my career that way. When I stop riding it will be because I choose to stop.” That gutsy attitude has already fueled one Cooksey comeback. Now 46, she returned to riding in June 2002 after undergoing treatment for breast cancer in 2001.
Her face blushed with dirt and glowing with excitement, surrounded by well-wishers and friends, Cooksey talked about her first ride back. “Once I got in the post parade and then in the gate—it was exhilarating. Fun. Awesome. There’s nothing like being on the back of an 11-hundred-pound animal going 40 miles an hour.
“I got a little winded. I’ve been swimming—I can’t tell you how many laps I’ve done. But there’s nothing like riding a daggone race to tell you what kind of shape you’re in. But my legs felt great. I knew she [Religious] would try to pull me out of the saddle for the first half-mile.” The four-year-old filly covered the first quarter in :21 4/5 before fading to finish last.
Reflecting on her decision to ride again, Cooksey said, “I want to stand in the winner’s circle again. I want to stand in the hallowed winner’s circle at Churchill Downs.”
With 2,136 victories, Cooksey is second only to Julie Krone for most wins by a female jockey. In 1984 she became just the second female to ride in a Kentucky Derby when she rode So Vague to an 11th place finish. In 1985 she became the first woman to compete in the Preakness Stakes, finishing sixth aboard Tajawa. She has won four meet titles at Turfway, most recently in 1995.