By Kris Prather
I wish each person who comes to the races could experience what we jocks do each racing day. The way we get to know each horse during the post parade, from a big, bulky colt whose attitude is: "Hey, kid, unless you make me, I'm not going to run," to tiny, feisty fillies who need just a calm hand to get them around there. To come down the stretch, each jock giving 100% of his/her mind, heart, and soul, their muscles straining in sync with the animal's beneath them, everybody giving their all, it's an amazing rush.
My first year as a professional jockey has been filled with learning experiences--about the job, about people, and about myself. Unlike many people in racing who grew up in it, I only knew what I could read about the sports back home in Montana. I'm trying to learn on the fly. And this past year I've experienced the high of winning a riding title and the low of being sidelined by injuries.
But I do know that I love racing. I remember when Donna and Frank Brothers took me under their wing, and decided they would let me ride one race in the summer of 2000 to get it out of my system. Instead, that first time was like taking a Jack Russell and turning it into a Pit Bull as far as me wanting to ride races. I loved it that much.
I also love the fans and respect the people I ride with. But I ran into trouble with some of them when people asked me what my dream was, and I told them, "Winning the Triple Crown." All of a sudden people were, like, "What do you think you're talking about?" My enthusiasm was mistaken for brashness, and I was labeled as having a cocky attitude. I don't pretend to know everything. I couldn't be further from that. Heck, I'm just an apprentice. Yes, horses run for me, but refining my skills and my knowledge of the game are things I must work on every day.
On the other hand, why am I out there if I don't want to win the Derby? It's a dream of mine. I'm not saying that I have more skill or I'm better than Pat Day. I'd say it's obvious I don't and I'm not. But even if he's on the favorite and I'm on a 50-1 shot, I think my horse will run faster than his on that particular day. This doesn't mean I'm cocky. It may very well mean I'm delusional and in need of psychotherapy, but it doesn't mean I'm cocky.
There's nothing wrong with dreaming. If I'm riding 10 races today and people ask me how many I'm going to win, I'll say "10." What am I supposed to say, "two," and have eight trainers mad at me? I'm there to win. Why think you're going to lose?
But a lot of reporters, trainers, and riders thought I was bragging on myself. Not the jockeys I respect--they're happy when you have success. It's just the ones who perceive that you're taking their bread and butter. It's not like I mean to. If I win, I win, and that's because of good horses.
Racing is truly a spectacular and beautiful thing. Since my injuries, my heart is in horse racing more than ever. It's with the fans, the horses, the trainers, the riders, and the grooms who put so much into each animal's progress. I love it and miss it in equal measure right now. Basically, I just want to ride again. I just want my heart back. And yes, I still want to win the Derby.KRIS PRATHER, 21, is the first female apprentice to win a riding title (Turfway Park, 2000). She is expected to return to riding in January.