by Brian Bohl
Exactly a half-century ago, Barbara Jo Rubin became the first female jockey to win a race in the Empire State, drawing national attention after piloting Bravy Galaxy to victory in front of a packed grandstand at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Rubin, who will be honored with a winner's circle presentation at Aqueduct Racetrack on Saturday, April 6, Wood Memorial Day, to commemorate her achievement, said she is looking forward to returning to Aqueduct, though the historic track looks different now, with a number of changes including the construction of Resorts World Casino, and a second turf course.
"It's been probably about 45 years since I've been back," Rubin said. "Aqueduct was huge. It reminded me of a concrete palace because it was different than Belmont, which looks like a country-side atmosphere. Aqueduct was very business-like, but it was a beautiful track."
Rubin made history in 1969, guiding Cohesion to a history-making win at Charles Town in West Virginia, becoming the first female rider to win a race against men at a nationally recognized racetrack in the United States.
With throngs of reporters and a crowd listed by the New York Times as 25,557 strong on March 14, 1969 at Aqueduct, Rubin was in the irons of Bravy Galaxy, a 2-year-old with no track record who went off at 13-1. Bravy Galaxy was trained by Bryan Webb, who ran the horse under the name of trainer Buddy Jacobson to avoid trouble with racing authorities, according to reports.
Rubin also was arriving to a circuit that featured a talented jockey colony that included eventual Hall of Famers Angel Cordero, Jr. and Jorge Velasquez among others.
"When I shipped into New York, I had to get my license and do all that. I didn't really think about having to go against the real famous jocks or anything like that. I was just thinking about getting my horse to run the way I wanted," Rubin said.
"I was always very relaxed. Most of the time before I rode, I took a nap and they'd wake me up and I'd weigh in. I had to usually use the first aid room or another room to change in because they didn't have anything for women back then."
Rubin rode Bravy Galaxy to victory, becoming the first female jockey to win a race in New York. In her second start, Rubin won aboard May Berry, notching her seventh overall win through her first 11 career mounts.
"I remember being in the post parade, a lot of people for yelling for him and a lot of people were yelling for me to go home," Rubin said about piloting Bravy Galaxy. "I would just blank everything out. I just saw blank faces and just talked to my horse. I knew how I was going to ride my race. I let her get on the lead because she was good in the gate and just sit chilly on her and ride the race."
Rubin said she was appreciative of Cordero, who offered encouraging words and then helped organize a celebration of her win by having the jockey colony good-naturedly throw water on her; a celebration that is normally reserved for a jockey's first win, but which did not happen at Charles Town.
"Angel was really nice and is a friend of mine and told me 'don't worry about these guys, you just ride your race,'" Rubin said. "He was the one who got the guys to throw water on me after I won, so I got my initiation there. I never was initiated before. The other riders didn't want me there."
Riding in New York held off-the-track adventures as well, with the then 19-year-old Rubin making appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Mike Douglas Show" and "To Tell the Truth," as well as other public appearances.
"After I rode in New York, they had me come down to Ed Sullivan and I went on the same night Janis Joplin was on," said Rubin about being on the same set where many famous acts performed, including the Beatles' 1964 appearances. "It was great meeting him. But I wasn't that impressed with all the news stuff. I had to do a lot of interviews. I just wanted to stay and ride."
Injuries forced her to retire after less than a year, though she returned to ride in the Lady Legends races at Pimlico between 2010-13, and has a career record of 22 wins, 10 second-place finishes, and 10 third-place finishes in 93 career starts.