'Thelma,' 'Louise' never say die

October 07, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

Trainer Marilyn Goldman roars with laughter when someone describes her and her jockey, Mary Wiley, as the "Thelma and Louise" of Maryland horse racing.

Goldman, after all, admits she was so nervous she broke out with a fever blister just thinking about working her filly, Miss Claratius, perhaps the best of her generation among Maryland-breds, on a muddy track Sunday at the Bowie Training Center.

But there's no question that this hard-hitting team of women professionals has displayed as much true grit as the horse Goldman trains and Wiley will ride on Sunday in Laurel's %J $100,000 Selima Stakes.

For the first time in years, the Selima, a Grade III event, is drawing a competitive-enough field to recall its glory days as a Grade I stakes. Stormy Blues, considered the second- or LTC third-best filly in the nation, is shipping in from New York and will be ridden by Jose Santos.

Also expected in the lineup is Robert Meyerhoff's improving Special Broad. And then there's Miss Claratius, who has earned her stripes by twice beating Maryland Million Lassie winner Prospector's Fuel and winning three of five starts, including the Debby's Turn Stakes.

No one is selling Goldman, the horse or Wiley, who is showing the best form of her career, short. Not even Raymond Wennik, the millionaire commercial real estate developer who owns and bred Miss Claratius, and said he had never even heard of Wiley before she began riding his horse.

Wennik, who races a large string of horses at the New York tracks with Gary Contessa, said he's used to riding Jerry Bailey or Mike Smith on his stock. "I thought, 'Oh boy, I'm in trouble,' when Mary rode her the first time," Wennik said. "But how can you argue with success?"

Now Wennik is not only comfortable with Wiley riding, but admires Goldman's no-nonsense approach to the game.

"Marilyn tells it like it is," said Wennik. "If you can't take it, you better get on your bicycle and pedal away. This is one hard-working lady, and although she's a small trainer [sometimes with as few as two runners in her barn], she's definitely not small-time."

For 15 years, Goldman, who grew up very much a city girl in northwest Washington, D.C., has been toiling on Bowie's backstretch, first as a groom, then as a stable foreman, and finally as a trainer since 1983, waiting for that one big horse to come along, not only for the financial rewards, but to define her career.

"For years, I've sent her nothing but wrecks, my castoffs from New York," said Wennik. "Finally, she got a good one."

Wiley has shown just as much pluck as Goldman.

Wiley grew up in Annapolis, riding ponies in horse shows against her classmate, Andrea Seefeldt. But Wiley had a different career in mind than Seefeldt, who is now the state's leading woman jockey.

Wiley wanted to be a Maryland state trooper.

That all changed when she took a job walking hots at Bowie. "People naturally assumed I wanted to be a jockey," Wiley recalled. "But I didn't, at first. Then someone told me 'You can't be a jock. You're a girl.'

"Tell me I can't do something, and I'm the type of person that's going to do everything I can to prove you wrong.'"

Wiley began riding at 25, but her career was cut short by a freak training accident at Bowie. A horse she was riding bolted while crossing the covered bridge leading to the track from the stable area, and crushed Wiley's leg.

The anterior cruciate ligament in her knee was severed, which meant it was going to be hard enough for her to walk again without a limp, much less ride a horse.

For 2 1/2 years, Wiley underwent a series of operations and therapy, and decided, earlier this year, at 31, that she was set for a comeback.

Now even she marvels at how well she's doing.

What's made the difference?

Trainer Eddie Gaudet said: "Not only does she have a lot of talent and ability and works hard, but you don't ever feel slighted that Mary is not giving her best.

"She listens and she's never once gotten one of my horses in trouble. She's riding better now that she's come back, because she's really concentrating and is eager to do well."

Wiley agrees. "This is my second chance and I'm sitting on some pretty nice stock," she said. "I owe what I've done to the people who have been putting me on their horses.

"Now that I've got this chance, nothing in the world is going to get in my way from making the most of it. I'm devoting everything I have to my career."

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