05/12/2010 12:00AM

Female greats back on stage


BALTIMORE - Some horse races just don't interest you. Some do. And then some just shake you by the throat and say, "You have got to see this!"

The Lady Legends for the Cure race is one that surely will grab the attention of racing fans. It is set as the fourth race Friday at Pimlico and is for retired women jockeys whose stories are being told in a documentary called "JOCK." The race serves as the conclusion to the film.

The participants include Barbara Jo Rubin, who broke the all-male barrier in 1969, when she became the first woman to win a race at a recognized racetrack, and Mary Russ Tortora, who as Mary Russ was the first woman to win a Grade 1 stakes.

Rubin is 60. Russ is 56. The other riders are Jennifer Rowland Small, 57; Cheryl White, 56; Patti Cooksey, 52; Mary Wiley Wagner, 46; Andrea Seefeldt Knight, 47; and Gwen Jocson, 43.

"Everybody said a race like this could never happen," said Jason Neff, the Los Angeles-based director and producer of JOCK.

Pimlico will take parimutuel wagering on the Legends, a $30,000, six-furlong allowance on the main track. Each rider has been randomly assigned a mount, and there are four also-eligibles in case any of the assigned mounts become injured or sick.

Rubin, a grandmother, has been trying to get fit for the race by galloping horses near her home at Fairmount Park in southern Illinois.

"I can't believe I'm doing this at 60," she said. "Each day I gallop I remember more, but it's amazing how my body just doesn't react the way it used to."

Besides being used in the documentary, the Legends also is a means to raise funds and awareness for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world's largest breast cancer organization. Two of the participating riders, Cooksey and Wagner, are breast cancer survivors.

Wagner underwent her last chemotherapy treatment for the disease in November.

"If one woman newly diagnosed with cancer can look at what I'm about to accomplish and feel positive about 'light at the end of treatment,' it's been worth every single moment I've devoted to this," she said.

For all its intrigue, the Legends race is missing some of the great female jockeys of all time, notably Julie Krone, a Hall of Fame member who is easily the winningest female jockey in wins and earnings. Krone is recovering at her California home from a broken leg suffered recently in a riding accident. Others missing from the Friday competition - but not the documentary - include Diane Crump, the first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby (1970), and Robyn Smith, who was a cover girl for Sports Illustrated in the early 1970s, is the widow of Fred Astaire, and today is a Learjet pilot.

Producer Linda Ellman said "JOCK" was "both an action film and an empowerment story. This race and the film explore what happens when perseverance and passion collide."

Further information on the documentary is available at jockthemovie.com.

The Legends race is set for 1:45 p.m. Eastern. The race favorites probably deserve to be Rasher, with Russ riding for trainer Rick Dutrow, and Chapel of Love, with Seefeldt up for trainer Mike Trombetta.

* Besides the Legends event, Pimlico also will be hosting a jockey competition on its Preakness eve card on Friday. The Jockey Challenge, as it is billed, will take place on races 3, 5, 7, and 10, with a scoring system tracking the following competitors: Javier Castellano, Kent Desormeaux, Ramon Dominguez, Garrett Gomez, Julien Leparoux, Rosie Napravnik, Jeremy Rose, and John Velazquez.

Desormeaux, a Hall of Fame jockey who first made his mark in Maryland in the late 1980s, won the Jockey Challenge last year.