05/20/2011 3:37PM

Pimlico: Lady Legends race for a cause

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Barbara D. Livingston
Riders in the Lady Legends for the Cure gather for a moment at Pimlico before the race.

BALTIMORE – Patti Cooksey remembers what the day was like when she became the first of just two women ever to ride in the Preakness.

“I was in there pretty much all alone,” Cooksey said, nodding toward the female jockeys’ quarters adjacent to the Pimlico Race Course indoor paddock. “There was a little TV in there. It was smaller than it is now that they’ve expanded it. I just kind of hung out by myself waiting to ride.”

Even though she finished sixth aboard longshot Tajawa later that afternoon in May 1985, Cooksey had established a legacy.

“There’s only one first time,” Cooksey, now 53, said proudly. “And that was me.”

Cooksey and seven other retired women jockeys were back to celebrate their roles as riding pioneers when taking part Friday at Pimlico in the Lady Legends for the Cure, a six-furlong race with parimutuel wagering. The Lady Legends race, run for the first time last year, serves as a vehicle to raise funds and awareness for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest breast cancer organization. Cooksey, an executive with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said she has been trying to get a Kentucky track to stage a similar sort of event.

Cooksey, a breast cancer survivor, said the excitement surrounding the Legends race is comparable to what she felt 26 years ago by riding in the Preakness.

“Absolutely,” she said. “We all worked very hard to get here. Nobody wants to go out there and not have their legs or their air. Hopefully this also creates excitement for the fans.”

Pimlico once again agreed to match whatever was bet to win on the winning horse – which was $33,108 – as a contribution to Komen.

The Lady Legends was won by the other breast-cancer survivor riding the race – Mary Wiley-Wagner, who guided Mass Destruction to a 6 1/2-length romp as the 5-2 second choice over the 3-2 favorite, Stone In Love, ridden by Abby Fuller.

Andrea Seefeldt – the only other woman to ride in the Preakness, having guided Looming to a seventh-place finish in 1994 – was aboard the third finisher, Alicantino, and was followed in order by Cooksey, Barbara Jo Rubin, Jennifer Small, Cheryl White, and Mary Tortora. The women range in age from 47 to 61.

To showcase the special nature of the race, Mass Destruction was led into the infield winner’s circle normally reserved for only the Preakness winner, where Wiley-Wagner beamed as she was feted and interviewed.

Donald Barr, the trainer of Mass Destruction, said he was confident before the race. “This horse ran fourth in this race last year, but I knew he could do better,” said Barr.

Women in racing was the dominant theme for Friday, much like Kentucky Oaks Day also has evolved into a high-profile day for women. Not only was the premier fillies race on the Maryland circuit, the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, run later on the card, but a jockey challenge for active female riders also was held on races 2, 4, 6, and 8.

Based on a points system, the contest was won by Emma-Jayne Wilson, the Canadian standout who was riding at Pimlico for the first time, with Forest Boyce second. Other participants were Rosie Napravnik, Vicky Baze, Chantal Sutherland, and Hayley Turner.

A $2 win bet on Wilson paid 21.80, and a $2 exacta paid $108.80. The respective pools drew $6,347 and $6,477.