On February 22, 1969, 19-year-old Barbara Jo Rubin becomes the first female jockey to win a race at an American thoroughbred track when she rides Cohesion to a victory by a neck over Reely Beeg in the ninth race at Charles Town, West Virginia.
That she raced at all was a testament to Rubin’s ability to overcome physical hardship and prejudice. When she was 6, Rubin contracted polio. Some in the sport were adamantly against a woman jockey competing.
Rubin became enamored with horses after watching on TV the movie National Velvet, a 1944 film starring Elizabeth Taylor about a girl who loves horses. “From that time on,” she told the New York Post, “I set my heart on riding horses.”
After riding at horse shows as a teen, Rubin decided she wanted to race. In 1968, Rubin left Broward (Florida) Junior College to work at the Tropical Park race track in Miami. While galloping horses in New England that summer, Rubin met Bryan Webb, a trainer who became her mentor.
With Webb’s encouragement, Rubin applied for a jockey’s license. In January 1969, she was supposed to ride a Webb-trained horse named Stoneland at Tropical Park for her debut. But after male jockeys threatened to boycott the track if Rubin raced, she withdrew. The breaking point for her came when a brick was thrown through the window of a trailer that served as Rubin’s changing room.
Rubin wasn’t deterred to give up racing, so she competed in the Bahamas. In her first race on Nassau’s Hobby Horse track, she rode Fly Away to a three-length victory.
Rubin was offered a spot in the 1969 Kentucky Derby, but the horse she was scheduled to ride, Picnic Fair, was scratched. Rubin retired from horse racing in 1970 at 20.
“I want to come back in the worst way,” she told reporters, “but my legs are giving me an awful lot of trouble.”