Veteran jockey Patricia Cooksey, the all-time leading female jockey at Churchill Downs and second in wins by women in U.S. racing history, scored the first win of her latest comeback from adversity as she rode Donner Pass to victory in Thursday's third race at the Louisville track.
Donner Pass won by a length while defeating eight horses in the 6 ½-furlong race for $15,000 claiming fillies and mares to provide Cooksey with her first victory since she broke both legs in a spill during a race at Keeneland on April 12, 2003. Her last win had come at Turfway Park in March 2003, shortly before the Keeneland mishap. The 46-year-old Cooksey returned to the saddle in competition at Turfway Park in late March, but had not managed to win with a handful of mounts at Turfway, Keeneland and Churchill Downs until Thursday's breakthrough victory.
"Absolutely awesome," exclaimed Cooksey as she accepted congratulations and well wishes from fellow jockeys, friends and fans after the win. "Ooh, that felt good."
The victory aboard Donner Pass was Cooksey's first at Churchill Downs since her successful battle against breast cancer. Her most recent victory at the Louisville track had been in the spring meet of 2000. Prior to her layoff of nearly a year as she recovered from her injuries in the Keeneland accident, she missed eight months of riding for cancer treatment. She underwent a mastectomy on Sept. 13, 2001 and did not return to competition until June 26, 2002. She scored her first win of that comeback on November 9, 2002 at Hoosier Park in Anderson, Ind.
During this year's comeback Cooksey had considered the possibility of retirement if she earned one more victory. But with her latest win under her belt on Thursday, Cooksey said she would put off any talk of retirement for at least a little while.
"Hopefully we can finish the meet," said Cooksey. "I knew this was going to happen. You win one and you're going to feel like, 'Well, maybe one more.' But I'll ride at least to the end of the meet." Cooksey is planning surgery to remove a rod placed in her left leg after last year's spill.
She said that she returned to competition after her latest mishap because she did not want the last image of her career to be the accident that sent her to the sidelines. "I didn't want to go out that way and let that be my last mount, but believe me – I'll be honest – it's been tough," she said. "In order to get back and get through that fear – I'll say the word, that fear – you have to ride a lot of races. The more you ride, the more the fear starts going away. But when you ride one or two a week, you've still got that little apprehension." The victory on Donner Pass was career win 2,137 for Cooksey, who trails only Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone in victories by a female rider. Her victory total includes 213 wins at Churchill Downs. The Youngstown, Ohio native was recently named as one of four finalists for the New York Racing Association's ("NYRA") 2004 Mike Venezia Memorial Award, which annually honors a jockey who exemplifies "extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship."