05/14/2014 12:54PM

Lady Legends for the Cure raises awareness, money on Friday undercard

Barbara D. Livingston
Patti Cooksey, shown at the 2012 Lady Legends for the Cure, will return for this year's event on the Black-Eyed Susan undercard on Friday at Pimlico.

BALTIMORE – For a charity event, a showcase race that should feel like an exhibition, this Lady Legends for the Cure is serious business. And that makes sense.

Lady Legends for the Cure is a pari-mutuel race that will be held for the fifth and final time Friday. The intent is to raise awareness of, and money for, breast-cancer research and treatment. The riders all are retired female jockeys, their participation a nod to women who have managed to work their way into a male-dominated sport.

“It’s not a joke to get ready to ride a race,” said Patti Cooksey, the first woman to ride in the Preakness. Cooksey’s regular riding career ended in 2004. This is her eighth time since 2010 riding in a special event like the Lady Legends for the Cure. Cooksey is 56. “It’s physically and mentally exhausting,” she said. “Each year, I have to work very hard, and hopefully I’m fit enough. It does take a lot of work coming up to the race.”

::DRF Live: Get live reports and handicapping insights from Pimlico starting at 11:30 a.m. Friday

It is hard work with real danger: Barbara Jo Rubin and Jennifer Rowland-Small were recently injured while training for the event and were forced to withdraw. Andrea Seefeldt Knight rode in the Lady Legends race in 2010 and 2011 and is back Friday after a two-year absence.

“I’ve put a lot into it this year,” said Seefeldt Knight, who won the 1991 Pennsylvania Derby on Valley Crossing. “I started two months ago. My first day out, it was 20 degrees with six inches of snow on the ground and still falling. I’ve been out pretty much every day, and I’ve hustled the backsides at Pimlico and Laurel to get as much work as I can. The first two weeks were terrifying because you know what you want to do, but your body can’t do it yet.”

The other participants are Cheryl White, Kaymarie Kreidel, Sharon Frances Gunther, Abby Fuller, Stacie Clark-Rogers, and Tammi Purcell-Burkland.

::Watch Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan Day card live

The eight riders compete in race 3, a six-furlong allowance race in which jockeys are assigned their mounts by lot. Gunther, who wasn’t even in the competition until injuries forced the two scheduled participants out, got the luck of the draw, winding up on Big Lute, who is 7-5 on the morning line and, on paper, most definitely the horse to beat.

The Lady Legends for the Cure race is part of what Pimlico and two partners – the local affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Baltimore-based Suited To Succeed – have billed “The Ultimate Girls’ Day Out.” The race card is anchored by the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Hall of Fame riders square off

Also on Friday’s card is the Hall of Fame Jockey Challenge, which matches seven Hall of Fame jockeys in a points-based competition spanning four races on the card.

The participants in the Jockey Challenge, which offers a $20,000 prize to the winner, are Russell Baze, Calvin Borel, Kent Desormeaux, Edgar Prado, Mike Smith, Alex Solis, and John Velazquez. All are Hall of Fame members, though Solis won’t officially be inducted until this summer.

The competition spans races 2, 4, 6, 8 and awards points on a 12-6-4-3 basis to the first- through fourth-place finishers.

The participating riders (and there are horses in all the races not ridden by contestants in the event) are randomly assigned mounts in the races, meaning the competition is based as much on chance as skill. Using the morning line as a guide, Velazquez, Baze, and Smith have the best chance to win, with Velazquez’s mounts all listed at odds between 4-1 and 15-1. Solis, by comparison, rides horses priced between 15-1 and 30-1. Baze is on a 9-2 shot and three horses ranging in morning-line price from 10-1 to 15-1, but the 55-year-old Northern California-based rider will be making his Pimlico debut Friday.