May 24th, 2024

Woodbine jockey Wilson in pursuit of Krone’s all-time purse record

By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on April 26, 2024.

Jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson is photographed at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto on Wednesday April 10, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO – Emma-Jayne Wilson may be a Canadian thoroughbred racing trailblazer and pioneer. But she had a very good mentor.

Long before Wilson established herself as Canada’s top female jockey, she received a call from American Julie Krone, the first woman to win an American Triple Crown race aboard Colonial Affair in the 1993 Belmont Stakes.

Wilson has made many trips to the winner’s since then, having amassed a Canadian-record 1,875 victories – including a historic triumph in the 2007 King’s Plate aboard Mike Fox – and counting. But as she enters a 20th season at Woodbine Racetrack, Wilson is on the cusp of surpassing Krone for all-time purse earnings by a woman.

Krone, who retired in 2004, holds the mark of US$90,126,584, with Wilson close behind at $89,161,572. Barring injury – Wilson missed some time last year with a concussion – the 42-year-old Brampton, Ont., native should surpass Krone’s mark in June or July.

Woodbine’s ’24 meet opens Saturday.

“As a competitor you know who your competition is, you know what you have to do,” said Wilson. “But for me, the numbers, the counting, the statistics aren’t my forte, although I’m aware of where I stand. It’s not my focus, winning races is my focus.”

“I’m one who likes to appreciate and acknowledge significant milestones as they come,” she added.

Wilson understands the doors people like Krone have opened.

“I’ve been called a trailblazer and I can appreciate that,” Wilson said. “But for the challenges and stigmas I’ve had to face versus what the women who came before me had to face is nothing, and every step is a step closer.

“Without all of the people, and not just women, who came before me and helped break the stigma of gender, it wouldn’t be possible for me to be as successful as I am. That’s the same for everything in the world, really, not just horse-racing. We’re still breaking boundaries and blazing trails today.”

Krone, 60, welcomes Wilson’s pursuit of her earnings record.

“It’s awesome,” she said.

Wilson recalls speaking with Krone early in her riding career.

“I still have the papers at home,” Wilson said. “I wrote down absolutely everything I could of what she was saying so I’d remember it forever.

“That meant so much to me.”

Krone fondly remembers that conversation.

“I just said how awesome she was,” Krone said. “But you know what I also remember? Going to my computer and watching her race and thinking, ‘Holy moly, this girl can ride.'”

In 2000, Krone became the first woman inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame. Three years later she was the first female jockey to ride a Breeders’ Cup winner (Halfbridled in Juvenile Fillies) among her record 3,704 career victories.

In 2018, Wilson became just the second woman to receive the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award, presented annually to jockeys who’ve made significant contributions to Canadian racing.

And Wilson isn’t showing any signs of slowing down as she embarks on another season.

“I’m absolutely champing at the bit,” she said, pun fully intended. “There’s a reason they use that term all of the time, because it’s true.

“I love this game, I love racing here in Canada, I love racing in Ontario. It’s my home and I’m passionate about it.”

And the reasons for that passion are simple: The people who work in Woodbine’s backstretch and the horses.

“The people involved in this game are one of a kind,” she said. “The dedication and hard work that go into turning these horses into professional athletes is just so amazing.

“But it’s the horses that do it for me because they’re living, breathing creatures with personalities. One of the most enjoyable times is when you get on that three-year-old, and the two-year-old from last year that ran a few times, showed some ability and was learning now comes back to the track to train and get ready for their primo year.

“If I could bottle up what I do and let someone experience it with me, I’d sell it. It’s unbelievable, there’s no other connection like it when you get aboard a horse that says, ‘Let’s do this.’ Don’t get me wrong, there are days with setbacks, we all have them. There are ups and downs in anything but there’s nothing like it.”

The $1-million King’s Plate, the Aug. 17 opening jewel of Canada’s Triple Crown at Woodbine, remains a goal. And although nearly 17 years have passed since her first Plate win, Wilson vividly remembers the experience.

“I can quote (former Woodbine track announcer) Dan Loiselle’s last quarter-mile call because I remember it like it was yesterday,” she said. “And the feeling is absolutely still there, that tunnel vision I had, that moment of, ‘I think I can win this.’

“That still blends into the passion of the game itself.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2024.

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