Barbara Jo Rubin
Into The Winner's Circle
Returning to the United States, Rubin took her credentials in West Virginia on February 18, 1969. Four days later, riding Cohesion in Charles Town, she made history as the first woman to win in a pari-mutuel (betting) race on a major U.S. track. (Rubin missed being the first woman to ride a U.S. pari-mutuel by a two weeks; jockey Diane Crump preceded her at Hialeah on February 7.) But that race, and subsequent others, brought out emotions in her competitors and the bettors. "Get married!" shouted one spectator at Aqueduct. "At Pimlico," she told Stan Isaacs in a 1969 Newsday piece, "somebody told me to go home and cook spaghetti. I don't pay any attention. They boo other people."
So Rubin concentrated on riding effective races. The catcalls turned to cheers when the rookie brought home two winners in two days at Aqueduct in March. And while racing, already a dangerous undertaking, did not get any easier, there was more of a sense of acceptance about the young woman. Isaacs described a race in which "the other jocks cut over on Rubin and made it rough for her, not because she is a girl, but because that's the way the game is played." Jockey Angel Cordero commented to Isaacs that if he saw Rubin taking the lead, he would ease his horse in front of her "because that's the way I would do it against everybody. Everybody else thinks of her as a girl. I think of her as a jockey." Rubin won eleven of her first twenty-two starts. Her style, according to Audax Minor of New Yorker, was characterized by "balance, good control and sensitive hands, because of which horses run well for her."
The owner of a stakes-running horse, Picnic Fair, thought enough of Rubin to offer her the mount for the 1969 Kentucky Derby. She would have entered the history books as the first woman to run a Triple Crown race; however, Picnic Fair was scratched from the race. But neither the Derby nor other major races had seen the end of women jockeys. Overcoming tremendous obstacles, Crump, Tuesdee Testa, Robyn Smith, Cheryl White, and Mary Bacon were the riders who, like Rubin, opened the door to athletes such as Julie Krone, who earned $81 million in her career and in 1993 became the first woman to win a Triple Crown race.
As for Rubin, the realities of her own body caught up with her dream of riding. Her height, five-foot-six, made keeping racing weight difficult; Rubin's knees, still sensitive from her bout with polio, did not let her maintain the strength she needed to control a 1,200-lb. Thoroughbred at top speed. Rubin retired from racing in January, 1970. The Barbara Jo Rubin Stakes, run in Charles Town, is named in her honor. "I don't feel I've done anything special," Rubin said to Isaacs in 1969. "I feel I've just been riding a horse, which is all I want to do."