So You Want To Be A Jockey Sylvia Harris

Updated: January 26, 2008


One aspect of Sports not to be denied are its inspirational stories like Sylvia Harris’ Harris has been getting a modicum ( look it up ) of attention in the media lately because of her new found success as a jockey and her hard luck story preceding it. She deserves a Box. But here is something you won’t hear anywhere else. It would be far better if Harris was a successful jockey but she got no media attention here or anywhere because there were so many African America not jockeys not virtually none.

But that is not to diminish Harris success and since we are here wildly celebrating OBAMA’s victory in South Carolina over the WICKED Clintons We will pay homage to Sylvia Harris by quoting from other media rather than doing it ourselves so we can spend the evening savoring the victory and praying that it is as big as possible do Hillary can’t get he media to spin it as some kind of “victory” for her.

So what is Sylvia Harris’ story reported in the NY Times and in other media here and there like MSNBC below …

On Dec. 1, a long shot wired the field in the final race on a cold day at Hawthorne Park, but it wasn’t seven-and-a-half length winner Wildwood Pegasus. The long shot was jockey Sylvia Harris, who overcame two decades of hardship to capture her first career victory at the age of 40 and became a part of horse racing history.”

“It was the best,” Harris said a few days after the race. “It was almost as if time stood still; like I was in a time warp. I started to cry. I leaned over and kissed the horse. It was a dream come true, a dream that took 30 years to fulfill. I’m 40 now and my prayers were finally answered.”

How did it al begin …

” Discouraged by her parents from pursuing a career in horse racing, she forgot about becoming a jockey and instead went to college. After two years of school she had the first of her three children and was forced to support a family as a single mother.”

” For the next 20 years Harris’ life was a difficult one. She spent most of the time between Virginia and Florida, working a variety of odd jobs to support herself and her family. Some of the jobs involved horses, including working at a rescue farm and as a temporary groom, but none involved riding and none paid well. Eventually she had to rely on welfare.”

“Harris says many of her problems stemmed from bipolar disorder, which she was diagnosed with at age 19. Battling with the depressive side of her condition, Harris said, made her unable to care for her children and hold a steady job. In 1999, Harris hit rock bottom, finding herself in Orlando, with no money and nowhere to live.”

“I was homeless for two months,” Harris said. “I lived out of my car. It was awful. For the first time I didn’t have any family around me. I just didn’t care anymore. Really, the only thing I cared about was who was serving lunch at the nearest soup kitchen.”

Then Harris life changed …

” Harris said things began looking up later that year after she met a local pastor who helped to get her back on her feet. A couple of years later, in 2002, she was introduced to Elmer Heubeck, Jr., a pioneer in the Florida Thoroughbred industry. Heubeck owned Quail Roost Farm in Citra, Fla., and was in search of a groom.”

“I went down there and applied for the groom job, but I also told him I wanted to ride, even though I still had never been on a horse, and I was 35 years old,” Harris said. “He hired me as a groom and I moved in. But he also taught me to ride and gave me a shot. I learned a lot, but unfortunately, he passed away six months later and then his wife died six weeks after that. They shut the farm down.”

Harris got more experience riding at the Robert Scanlon Training Center in Williston and later moved to West Virginia where she received an exercise riding license at Charles Town. In 2005, her roller-coaster journey took her to Chicago.

“I was on my way up to Canada because I had heard that they were in need of jockeys, but I got stranded,” Harris recalled. “I had $55 to my name and couldn’t make it. Somebody told me to go to Arlington Park. I wound up meeting (trainer) Bettye Gabriel and galloped for her the last two years. With her help, I was able to get steady work and my own apartment. I finally got my bug license this year, too.”

now her recent success as reported in The Times…

” In August, she rode in her first race at Arlington Park. Still, the mounts were hard to come by. She would go weeks without an assignment, and she became discouraged. The trainer Bettye Gabriel was among the first to give Harris work as an exercise rider.”

“Everybody deserves a chance to change their lives,” Gabriel said. “She picked a hard place for a woman to break in, but she has tried so, so hard. I’m sure that her struggles in life have made her stronger and more determined. She’s had to go from the bottom up, and I admire her for her perseverance.”

” In November, Harris finally received the kind of break that had so seldom come her way. For a race on Nov. 7 at Hawthorne, no one wanted to ride a horse named Wildwood Pegasus, who, some jockeys feared, was infirm.”

” She seized the opportunity and persuaded the trainer Charlie Bettis to give her a chance. Harris finished third that day, and Bettis rewarded her by keeping her on the horse. With Harris aboard, Wildwood Pegasus won his next start, on Dec. 1. The victory opened some eyes, and Harris’s business has increased.”

and to conclude …

“Harris understands that she can accomplish only so much as a rider because of her age and inexperience. But she knows that she accomplished what she set out to do. In the process, she has turned her life around.”

” She said she had rebuilt her relationships with her children. Two of them live in Ireland, with their father. The third lives in Virginia with Harris’s father. She sees them during long summer visits.”

So Sylvia Harris will never

likely be a Super Jockey

no Kentucky Derbies in

future but so what she

is one of the few

Black jockeys an


for others to