FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
LM: I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas and then I moved and went to college at the University of Hawaii on a scholarship for soccer.
FOTH: What sort of girl were growing up?
LM: I played every sport you can think of and being from Texas sports are very attentive and I was really good at track and soccer and that is how I got a scholarship. All my friends were very social and part of the popular crowd.
FOTH: Did you know at a young age you might want to become a jockey one day?
LM: I knew I wanted to do something with animals. I was the only one in the family trying to catch wild animals and teach them tricks and stuff. Later on I started to go to school to be an equine vet. I got a soccer scholarship to Hawaii, but later on came back home to Texas to pursue my degree there. I ended up getting a job with a vet on the backside. I wanted to be ahead of the other students as much as I could. That later led me to getting a job at Retama Equine Hospital, the third best in equine clinic in the state of Texas. It was cool, I helped assist in colic surgeries, orthoscopic surgeries, you name it. We also used to do work on the backside of the track as well. I was so drawn to being a jockey. Combining the athletic part with the commutative part with the horse was just fascinating to me, and better yet, I would get to compete, which naturally I am always drawn to a good competition. I’ve been a little athlete since I was five, hee, hee.
I couldn’t resist but to try.
I didn’t tell anybody at first I wanted to be a jockey, because I didn’t have the racing background or family ties most jocks have getting into the business. I had to put myself in the business. So naturally, I need to learn from the bottom up, and I did. Now I needed to learn how to gallop. I was asked “Have you ever ridden before,” And I just said show me how, and I guarantee I can do it.” I was riding Quarter horses in match races in the matter of three months of galloping, ” It was crazy”. I’m lucky I didn’t kill myself, hee, hee.”
I knew what my goal was, to be a professional jockey, so I knew I needed to better myself. I would practice on bails of hay. Which is were you put three bails of hay together to make a race horse, and try to ride it, its quite humorous. Later I found out about the equisizer. Its a wooden horse you can practice your riding techniques on. Frankie Lovato makes them. I spoke to Frankie via phone hoping to get one, but they are expensive, and I didn’t have that kind of money at the time. But the best thing is I became friends with Frankie, and he wanted to help me pursue my career as a rider. Frankie is now like a father to me in the business, he taught me so much, with riding, how to be in the business, good work ethics, good discipline. He’s a class act.
An opportunity later arose for me that I was able to get a job galloping for Steve Assmussen. Frankie was one of his stable riders at the time, and helped me get the job. It would be a great foundation he said. I learned a lot from Steve as well, I worked hard in the barn, but the best reward was the knowledge I got from doing so. I cleaned stalls, I galloped, I helped run horses, fed and what ever else needed done around the barn. I would leave the barn almost at 7 PM everyday, but it was all worth it.
I later on went to work for Ronnie Warner in Chicago. That’s when I really started to polish my riding skills more. I breezed a lot of horses, I galloped a lot of horses young and old. I was like a sponge to learn any new knowledge that would help me in my journey as a jockey. Ronnie decided to leave Chicago and stable in New York, he asked me to go with the barn if I liked. I was grateful for all his help but I really liked Chicago and decided to stay and establish myself there.
I then started working for Moses Yanez (Paisa) who helped me so much to get me going on my final journey as an apprentice. I would gallop so many horses a day for Moses. He had a large out fit, and always had me breeze all the horses, unless they were babies that needed to go in company, then naturally the other jocks would breeze with me. Sometimes I would breeze 8 or 9 a day. He allowed me to be in race like situations in the mornings. He would have me brake the babies out of the gates with 4 other veteran jocks breezing 6 furlongs. I would be in the middle of course, and on the slowest, to teach me how to pick a my reins and help carry a baby along to teach them how to run. The other riders taught me a lot and I listened. As well as Frankie. Frankie always encouraged me to be good, and do things right. Take my time and learn as much as I can because it would pay off and it would earn respect from trainers as well as fellow riders I would be riding against. So that’s what I did. I even breezed horses in my jocks saddle twice before I rode my first race at Arlington Park.
The day Frank Kirby asked me, ” Liz, when are you going to ride, your more than ready?” I knew than I was ready. I valued Franks opinion, he’s a respected man in the Chicago circuit. I felt ready to ride, and made sure my first race was at the end of Arlington Park meeting, so I would know how fit I was if I was going to continue on to Hawthorne Park. I rode my first race on a first time starter for Kenny Spraggins at Arlington Park in a 12 horse field. And again, I was in the middle, post number 8. I was a long shot. Got sandwiched out of the gate, and ended up still running fourth coming from off the pass. It was really great. And I wasn’t a bit tired believe it or not, just excited and addicted. I ended up riding at Hawthorne after the Arlington meeting. I was the leading apprentice rider there, I broke my collar bone a week before the meeting ended. And that is pretty much my story in a nut shell.
FOTH: Tell us about your 1st win.
LM: It was Hawthorne, I broke my maiden on a maiden. Long shot. She had run many times, but never lit up the board until me, I guess it was our day to shine. It was actually raining. It was for Don Molones, her name was Zee Me Zipp.
FOTH: Did you get the initiation after the race?
LM: Yes, but you know what, all the riders in our colony are great guys and very respectful and not to mention my fiancee is a jockey in that colony so they were pretty kind to me. They put together ketchup, mustard, baby powder and who knows what else what and threw it in my hair. It took like 3 washes to get it all out, I’m just glad my hair didn’t fall out, hee, hee.
FOTH: Looking back would you say that you had a pleasant experience riding the Chicago circuit?
LM: Yes, I love it. It challenges me daily. And I love a good challenge. Its a tough circuit to break into, but I am thankful for my success I have had here in Chicago. All the trainers have been great to me, but I worked hard to ride here. The colony of riders here are great, a really experienced colony of riders, with a lot of respect for each other. I own my own home here. I love Chicago, its like home to me now.
FOTH: Is that Hawthorne stretch as long as it look on television?
LM: Yes it is, and I love it. Hawthorne is my favorite track for that reason. You have to be a smart rider. You have to know how fast your going, and how fast everyone else is going. You can beat good horses by riders mistakes. Its very important to know the pace in the race, and set your horse accordingly. And that’s long stretch at Hawthorne really gives you that opportunity.
FOTH: Take us through what you do in a typical day.
LM: I get up bright and early, depends on how the weather is how much I will bundle up for. Remember it can get brutally cold in the windy city of Chicago. I walk the barns and say my good mornings to the trainers. Check to see if they need me to work any horses. Call my agent to see if we already have any workers lined up that morning. I like to talk to my trainers in the mornings. Constructive critics to me is a good thing. It only makes you better. I’m big on studying my races. When your a bug, you start off riding some of the worst horses on the backside and with me being a female, it is tough to ride in Chicago cause they are like anti-female here. So I try to figure out ways to show trainers that I can ride, give me a shot. I do homework on my races. I pull up pp’s (past performances) on my computer. I have a system where I can do that on all he horses I ride that day. I also pull up the sire and the dam’s pp’s, so I can see how the mother and the father ran. I watch race replays on my computer to see how the horse has been running. I study the replays to see what maybe the previous jocks may have done wrong or right to give me a better feel of my horse. That way I’m not trying to figure it all out in the race. It just gives me a bit of an advantage I think, and just a better in sight on my mount. I like it, I feel like it works for me. Sometimes you can notice something
so simple that we sometimes can over look. And that is basically what I do before I ride.
FOTH: Liz if some young girl came up to you and said she wanted to become a jockey what advice would you give her?
LM: I would honestly ask her why? Why does she want to be a jockey? I do what I do because I am passionate about it. I have a degree, I don’t need to do this for a living. I enjoy what I do and its not all about the money to me. If your passionate about what you do, you will be good at it, and the money will come, because you will work hard. I would ask her if she wants to become a jockey because of the image they sometimes portray. This is something you really need to take your time with, especially if you are serious about it. And there are more downs than ups in this business. You need to be emotionally strong for that. Its tough enough to be a jockey and to be successful as a man but as a women you have those same obstacles to over come and then some. I would tell her to learn the basics first. Learn how a horse moves and thinks and it will help you in the long run. If you go out there to the loins too soon without a strong foundation going in, they will eat you alive, and not only that when you finish your bug, they will forget who you are. Take your time and do it the right way.
FOTH: Do you have any idea how long you would like to ride for?
LM: I don’t really know right now, because for me, I wish I could ride and train at the same time, (laughs). But you cant really do that at any track. I still have riding in my veins and will ride until my body just says no, or my heart isn’t in it. I am strong and healthy right now, and as competitive as they come, so riding is still my thing for the moment. I have Indiana Downs in my mind right now, Arlington is going to be a tough meet this year, more than norm. I hear the turf course is great there at Indiana. I love the turf, and its close to Chicago. I’ve had some offers to go with agents at a few other tracks, but I think I’m going to stick to Indiana for now, and then back to Hawthorne in the fall.
FOTH: Do you think another girl jockey can win one of the Triple Crown Races?
LM: Absolutely. I think a lot of it has to do with connections, or being in the right place at the right time. It frustrates me when people say, “she is a girl, she’s not strong enough.” Now days if you only knew how many men sit in the sauna to reduce five pounds in two hours, you cant tell me that they go out there stronger than me. Or the ones that smoke and dee I’ll kick all of the riders butts. Now that is like 1 on 1 strength. Now some girls are weak or they are sacred. If you have a fit athletic woman like Julie Krone, or the girl riding from Canada (I assume she means either Emma Jayne-Wilson or Chantal Sutherland-Chris), Zoe Cadman. You can tell if a girl is strong. It is not about man strength, it is about good hands on a horse. Giving and taking with a horse, manipulating him to do things. I think a woman can go that just as well as a man.on’t take care of there bodies. I’m a healthy person with no bad habits.
If its about strength, I used to competitively kick box, so put me in the ring with the jocks they think are stronger, I guarantee you it would be a match that most of them would be leaving pretty embarrassed. And to me that is one on one strength and stamina mental and physical. Don’t get me wrong, some girls are weak riders or timid. If you have a fit athletic women like Julie Krone, Emma Jane Wilson, Zoe Cadman and some others as well, you will see what I mean by a strong women rider. Its not about man strength, its about good hands on a horse. Giving and taking with a horse, manipulating him to do what you want him to. I think a women can do that just as well as a man, if not better.
FOTH: Do you have any special moments or horse that sticks out in your mind?
LM: I have a horse that I am quite found of and this horse was claimed by a very well known trainer here in Chicago and he was claimed by a very small outfit, but a very good trainer though. This horse’s form was not the best and I became lucky enough to get involved with this horse and this horse was very funny and he didn’t like a lot of riders and he dumped people all the time in the morning and we and this horse bonded. Don’t ask me how, but we just did. Nobody could get this horse to run like I did. I won so many races on this horse and people just loved to watch me ride this horse and I won 3 allowance races and we were 4th in a stakes race at Arlington and nobody were expecting that, so every time I rode that horse and every time I got in the winner’s circle with that horse it was a great feeling cause it took a lot of work to get there and for me it was a great accomplishment to me. Little things make me happy. (laughs)
FOTH: The collarbone injury, has that been the only one so far.
LM: Yes. Knock on wood.
FOTH: What is it like breaking the babies down in Ocala, FL?
LM: I like it and it’s different as I have not broke babies in a long time and it is fun being part of that.
FOTH: I am out of questions anything you want to say to wrap this up?
LM: I appreciate you finally getting hold of me and doing this interview.
FOTH: No problem and best of luck with everything.