Maryjean Wall -- The Write Stuff

The following excerpt is from Women in Racing: In Their Own Words. Published September 2001 from Eclipse Press.

When I started, I had no mentors. I can't tell you how awful it was and how scared I was. Going into press boxes where I had to fight my way in, at least at first. And the barn areas, where I knew absolutely no one. Some people openly despised me. There was one prominent trainer who would never ever speak to me. It was a hard burden to shoulder. I don't know why he didn't like me. But when you're young, it's hard to walk up to somebody like that and say, "Hey, you S.O.B., why won't you talk to me?"

It was hard to get people to talk to me. I don't know if it was because I was young, because I was a woman, because I walked in there not knowing anybody -- it was probably all three. Later, I realized that it wasn't just me -- that they just didn't want a woman around.

The Women's Movement was in the '60s and '70s. I remember it being there, but at the time I never got involved in it because I was working so hard, working full time, and going to school, too. I was aware of them out there fighting their fight, but I had no dog in that fight. I was just trying to survive. And once I got my writing job, I was just so happy that I was getting to do the work I wanted to do that I wasn't looking at it from the standpoint of, "Oh, I'm a woman breaking new ground."

You had to have a certain way of skipping around things in order to function back then. There was another trainer, he trained an extremely high-profile horse in the 1970s. When he came through Kentucky, I had absolutely no rapport with him in person. But I found out that on the phone, he would talk to me. So that's what I did. It was amazing. It made me feel small a lot of times. But there was nothing I could do about it except persevere.

You knew you weren't going into the jockeys' room (for interviews). It didn't make a bit of difference to me. All the men thought they had to go in there, and they did. I didn't see why you had to -- you could talk to the jockeys in the mornings, or you could talk to them when they got off their horses after races. Why did you have to go in the showers with them?

A couple of times this did become an issue. I remember at Keeneland it became an issue one year when Bill Shoemaker came there to ride in a stakes, and, of course, all the men were going into the jockeys' room to talk to him. Recently, I found a letter that the Herald wrote to Keeneland, explaining to them that they couldn't let just men only in the jockeys' room. After that, the way it worked at Keeneland was instead of letting me in, nobody would go in. Now, we can all talk to the jockeys in another room. When the letter was sent it wasn't because I wanted to go into the jockeys' room. It was just that I wanted access to the jockey like everybody else.

I've since been in jockeys' rooms. When they first started letting women in, it was a badge of honor, I mean you had to go in. The tracks were finally bending over backwards to be fair to us.

Buy this book

Other excerpts