Diane Crump on Making Jockey History

The 1st female professional jockey is the subject of a new biography

Posted 12/20/20

In 1970, spectators at the Kentucky Derby saw something they’ve never witnessed before- a female jockey piloting one of the horses

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Diane Crump on Making Jockey History

The 1st female professional jockey is the subject of a new biography

Posted

In 1970, spectators at the Kentucky Derby saw something they’ve never witnessed before- a female jockey piloting one of the horses into the starting gate. Diane Crump was the first woman to ride the famed Triple Crown race aboard Fathom, coming in 15th in a 17-horse field. A year earlier, the Connecticut native became the first female professional jockey when she ran the Hialeah Park Race Track in front of a crowd that was so hostile to the idea of a non-male rider, that she needed a police escort to get on the track. Undeterred, the courageous 21-year old took to the chase, placing 9th in a field of 12 and making history for women in the sport. She went on to a racing career that earned her 228 wins and the legendary status of a horse racing pioneer. Crump is the subject of a new biography recently released, “Diane Crump: A Horse-Racing Pioneer’s Life in the Saddle”, which is available for sale on our website. Sports History Magazine asked Diane to look back and share her story with us.

You grew up in Connecticut, but your family moved to Florida when you were still young. Tell us a little how you became interested in horse riding.

I fell in love with horses at a carnival pony ride in Milford, Connecticut at the age of 4. I don’t know what it did to me, but I just didn’t want to stop riding that pony! From then on my parents would take me to a livery stable on some Saturdays to ride for an hour when time and money allowed. For my 7th birthday, I got a package of riding lessons for 8 weeks. The love and desire were there and apparently nothing could stop that. There were no horses at all where we lived and no one in my family had pretty much ever heard of a horse! We moved to Florida when I was 12 and the promise of getting my own horse came to pass. We moved to Oldsmar, Florida which is the home of what once was Sunshine Park and today is Tampa Bay Downs. From getting my own riding horse and starting a riding club, to working on a thoroughbred farm, one thing led to another and my dreams and passion grew.

What did your family and friends say when you told them you wanted to race horses?

My family was always extremely supportive of each of their kids living their dreams. They didn’t understand to start with what riding and working with racehorses was all about but they were behind my dreams!

In 1969, you became the first female jockey to run a professional race. How did that opportunity come about?

It’s a long story about how women got the right to ride and the obstacles they had to overcome. It was illegal for women to ride up until a court battle in 1968. From then on, we had to overcome boycotts, threats and negative press. It’s all in my biography that just recently came out.

That first race was held at Hialeah in front of a very hostile crowd. How did you feel as a 21-year old trying to compete in such a poisonous atmosphere?

I felt awesome finally getting to ride in a race and becoming a jockey. It was a dream come true. I never paid any attention to the negativity around me.

The following year in 1970, you became the first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby. Tell us what you remember from that historic day.

I remember the excitement and enthusiasm that Derby Day holds for everyone. I won the first race on the card that day and it was a great way to get started. I finished third in the two-year filly stake as well and then on to the Derby.

Fundamentally, men should not have a natural advantage over women when piloting a horse. Or, do they?

Men and women are equal on the back of a horse. It’s your feel and connection to the animal that makes it work.

Coming up in the sport, were there any jockeys that you looked up to, or tried to excel?

I didn’t really have any jockeys in particular that I looked up to. There were certainly plenty that I admired and respected, though.

There's an anecdote of you racing in Puerto Rico and one of the jockeys behind you is grabbing the back of your saddle to get a free ride. You turned to whip him with your stick, he whipped you back, and this went on until he eventually pulled away to win the race. How did you feel coming out of that experience?

I felt as though I was as tough and fearless as I could be.

In 1989, you suffered severe injuries from a riding accident. What happened?

I was breaking a 2 year-old at a training center and he reared up and fell over backwards on me. He broke my leg in several places and I had a compound fracture of the tibia among other things.

You retired in 1999 with 228 career wins. What are some of your most memorable races?

I rode a lot of horses that I dearly loved and that gave me their heart. I don’t really have a favorite. My most memorable race was at Woodbine in Canada, however. We shipped a 2-year filly up there for a stake race. It was a three-horse photo with me wedged in the middle. Both riders claimed foul against me, although I couldn’t even hit my filly as we were in such tight quarters. It took 20 minutes to decide the photo finish and the foul claims. It was a great feeling when my number went up as the winner and the race was declared official!

There's been a lot of talk about the future of equine racing, especially following reports of horses dying on the track and the recent legalization of sports betting. What does the horse racing industry need to do in order to preserve its heritage?

I think the drug testing and use of medication need to get more strict, and we need to get back to the basics of horsemanship.

Today, you run an equine sales business. Tell us about it.

My business, Diane Crump Equine Sales, is exactly like a real estate company only for horses. I have a website with all of the horses posted with pictures, videos and a detailed description. People call me and I set it up for them to come try the horses that they are interested in. I meet them at the individual farms and then they can follow me to see however many horses they might be interested in looking at.

Other Interviews Enjoyed:  Kathrine Switzer (1st Female Marathoner), Tracy Edwards (1st Female Yacht Racer), Libby Riddles (1st Female Winner of Iditarod).

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