Death threats. Conspiracy. Revenge. Full-scale investigations. Male chauvinism. Expos�. Mafia involvement.
Though it was perhaps inevitable in the Age of Watergate, the sensational and all-too-familiar catchwords being bandied about Pimlico Race Course last week were worse than unsubstantiated. Indeed, as used in the case of Karin Yarosh, a 20-year-old apprentice jockey who was critically injured in a fall during a race at the Baltimore track on April 8, the dark whisperings made an unfortunate accident unseemly.
Regrettable as it was, however, the Pimlico controversy focused attention on the plight of the woman jockey. In fact, Karin Yarosh's struggle to succeed and the circumstances that led up—and in some ways contributed—to her mishap lend new currency to another old bugaboo word that still applies to thoroughbred racing: prejudice.
When Diane Crump first broke the sex barrier at Hialeah way back on Feb. 7, 1969 she seemed to loose a veritable stampede of eager "jockettes" who, with pigtails flying and accompanied by choruses of wolf whistles, won miles of cutesy headlines like "Go-diva, go!" After a few attempts to "boycott the broads," some sneering asides ("What's next? Topless go-go riders?") and a lot of grumbling about job security and the risks of matching muscles with the weaker sex, male jockeys gradually acquiesced to such promotional frippery as the "Jack 'n Jill Handicap."
Today female jockeys are no longer news. Nor is the grudging acceptance they have won from most of their male counterparts. But make no mistake; if anything, the instant notoriety that greeted the women's break from the starting gate seven years ago has obscured the fact that by and large they have been languishing somewhere in the backstretch ever since. (There are notable exceptions; Denise Boudrot is one of the leading riders in New England.) And acceptance does not mean approval; in many instances it simply means that the men do not regard the ladies as a threat.
How can they be, complains Belinda Cole, one of three women currently riding at Chicago's Sportsman's Park, when "just finding somebody to give you a start is half the battle? There are tons of exercise girls who would love to be riders but no one will give them a start." Echoing a common lament, she adds, "As a rider I find my trouble in getting mounts stems from the owners. Many times they insist on a 'strong rider' "—the stock euphemism for no sidesaddlers need apply.
The going is slow for other reasons as well. Jennifer Rowland, the top female rider on the Maryland circuit, says, "There's still a problem with a lot of the horses. Trainers don't want girls and they give you horses going off form as a last-ditch operation, a last attempt to get a purse. We get a large percentage of sore horses and rogues or horses that have gone sour."
The race in which Karin Yarosh was injured was in fact made up of a dozen questionable horses who had never won. Along with Jennifer Rowland, she was one of four women jockeys who went off in a field that included six inexperienced riders. Starting on the inside, Karin kept her mount, a 4-year-old filly named Cione, on the rail. Lying sixth as she neared the half-mile pole, Karin was passed on the outside by No Beef, ridden by another apprentice jockey, Barry Sasser. As Sasser moved into the turn, Patrol Judge Richard Friedman, who was watching from his stand 25 yards away, barked into his headset, "The six horse coming in tight on the one."
At that moment Cione bumped No Beef's hindquarter, bounced off the rail and fell, throwing Karin into the path of Rowland's horse, which unavoidably trampled her. When Friedman rushed to her assistance, she was still conscious moaning, "Please help me, help me." Rushed to Sinai Hospital with a hoof-print under her right arm, she was in surgery for nearly five hours. Her gallbladder and two-thirds of her liver were removed. Also suffering six broken ribs and a perforated lung, she received 37 pints of blood, much of it contributed by jockeys and track employees.
Though No Beef, who finished third, was disqualified for interfering with Cione, the next day the Pimlico stewards, after studying the films with a group of 20 jockeys, ruled that Sasser was blameless. Chief Steward J. Fred Colwill explained, "The boy made every effort to keep from bothering the other horse."