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Sports Horse Racing

Doors continue to open for women at Preakness, throughout horse racing

Abby Fuller dreamed of being a jockey as a little girl in 1968, but at the time there were no women yet in horse racing.

Then came Barbara Jo Rubin, who became the first female jockey to win a race in 1969, giving Fuller hope for a future in the sport.

Fuller, now a retired jockey, was among eight retired female jockeys to participate in the fifth and final running of the Lady for Legends for the Cure race on Friday. The race began in 2010 for breast cancer awareness and female empowerment in horse racing.

Fuller marveled in appreciation of Rubin for opening the door for female riders and could likely smile Saturday leading up to the 139th Preakness because the door opened by Rubin is as ajar as ever.

For the first time in Preakness history, the race featured a filly, Ria Antonia, a female jockey, Rosie Napravnik, and female trainer, Linda Rice.

Ria Antonia finished last in the 10-horse field while Napravnik rode Bayern to a ninth place finish and Rice's horse, Kid Cruz, placed eighth.

"I'd liked one of the females to win today," Rice, 50, joked after the race. "But hey, it's good for racing."

But female participation in this year's race wasn't restricted to the track. Bethann Dixon, 44, became the first female bugler to play at the Preakness while Gabby Gaudet, 23, made her mark as the race's first female handicapper.

Pimlico hired Gaudet in March of 2013 to replace longtime course handicapper Frank Curilli. After growing up around horse racing, Gaudet has noticed a recent change in terms of the sport's inclusion of both youth and females she believes has been primarily driven by Napravnik.

The 26-year-old jockey is a two-time Kentucky Oaks champion and became the first woman to ride in all three Triple Crown races. Napravnik rode in 10 races during this year's Preakness weekend, claiming first place in the $40,000 Kattegat's Pride Starter Handicap aboard Love Heart.

"She's an absolutely tremendous rider and she's actually paved the way in my opinion," Gaudet said. "People don't look at her as a female rider. They just look at her as a good rider, which is important."

Alan Foreman, general counsel for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said he thinks women are the fastest growing demographic in horse racing.

"It's representative of the industry," Foreman said. "Female participation in our industry is far greater than I think people realize. It's the one demographic that I think is really growing in our sport, and very much so represents the future."

From Rubin to Fuller to now this year's Preakness, there's great hope the door of female inclusivity in all levels of horse racing will remain open.

"Given the fact that there's three women connections in the Preakness this year, it really just speaks volumes to how the racing industry is developing," Gaudet said.

But maybe what Preakness bugler Ryan Resky said as he smiled while talking about Dixon as the race's first female bugler shed the most light on the current state of horse racing.

"The sport of kings," he said, "is not only for men."

adodson@baltsun.com

twitter.com/dodgerthat

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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