06/26/2007 11:00PM

Grandma jockey wins at Thistledown


NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - When Diane King rode the winner of the seventh race at Thistledown last Monday, it was her first victory since September 2003. But then again, for a 57-year-old grandmother, that isn't so bad.

King's fellow jockeys were so excited after she won they doused her with water, just as they would an apprentice winning her first race.

While there are no official records kept on the subject, officials at the National Thoroughbred Racing Association said they could not find a female jockey who has ever ridden at King's age. King rode her first race in 1974 under the name Diane Haney. She has 875 wins from 7,138 mounts and purse earnings of more than $1.6 million.

King has ridden sparingly over the past decade, averaging about nine rides a year between 1999 and 2006. This year she has ridden only twice, with her winning ride coming on the family-owned Wire Leader. She accepted the other mount from a longtime friend, Augie McRandall, and finished second.

A native of Youngstown, Ohio, King was 14 when her mother arranged for her to go to a training center and learn how to exercise horses for a friend, John Logan, one of Ohio's leading owner-breeders, and his trainer, Freddy Pfischer. King worked for them for several years, then left racing for about a decade.

"I finished high school and then went to Youngstown University, where I received a business degree," she said. King also has a valid real estate agent's license.

In 1970, King came back to the racetrack. She went to Waterford Park, now Mountaineer, and began exercising horses. The top female rider at the time, Patty Barton, took her under her wing and got her started as a jockey.

"I rode for about 20 years and had my share of winners," said King.

About three years ago she and her husband of 27 years, Bobby King, came to Thistledown with a two-horse stable. She takes whatever mounts come her way in the afternoon, but it's in the morning that she is the busiest.

"I get on about 20 a day," she said "The going rate is $10 a horse, so I'm doing well. As for riding in the afternoon, I basically ride my husband's horses or for friends, owners, and trainers who have a few horses."

The morning she won with Wire Leader didn't start out like it would be the King's lucky day.

"I broke my nose getting on a horse," she said. "He reared up and hit me with the top of his head. My nose was bleeding a lot. I put my head back and put pressure and ice on it and then went on and galloped the horse."

When asked why she still rides, she quickly replied: "I want to be involved in the whole package. I groom and put bandages on the horses, gallop, then get to ride them in the races - a real sense of satisfaction."