Pioneering female jockey makes it back for second Lady's Legends

Norman Asbjornson's plate goes missing

Lukas likes Animal Kingdom

May 19, 2011|By Sandra McKee | Baltimore Sun reporter

A year ago, when Barbara Jo Rubin agreed to compete in the first Lady's Legends race at Pimlico Race Course, she discovered how uncomfortable it can be to ride a horse when you haven't done it in 40 years. Afterward, not knowing if there would be another Legends race, which raised $100,000 for the Susan G. Komen cancer fund, she decided to keep training horses and stay in shape.

If there was going to be a race, she'd be ready. But the best laid plans, as they say . . .

"I was galloping eight or nine horses every morning and I felt wonderful," she said of her post-Preakness week routine. "Then I started having some stomach cramps and thought I had some kind of stomach flu. My husband and I left on vacation, driving to South Dakota, when I really got sick."

Doctors discovered a problem with her intestines and she had surgery immediately. The doctors took nine inches and she went 18 days in the hospital without food. Her veins collapsed, "and they had to put a pick line into my heart," she said. "I nearly died."

When she left the hospital, the always trim Rubin was down to a miniscule 94 pounds. When she was finally able to start coming back to the track in March, she pulled a tendon in her elbow and couldn't use her arm. She finally got back to training last week.

But here she is ready to ride in the second Lady's Legends race Friday. No one seems surprised by her determination. After all, as a kid she overcame polio, in 1969 she was the first woman to win a pari-mutuel race against male riders and the first to ride in the Kentucky Derby.

"Barbara Jo is absolutely a pioneer," said Abby Fuller, who rode professionally from 1983 until 2001, and won the Triple Tiara in New York, riding a filly to victories in the Acorn, Mother Goose and Coaching Club Oaks. "When I aspired to be a jockey, she was the one who inspired me."

Now they are here once again to inspire race fans to give all they can in support of the Susan G. Komen race for the Cure.

"We're hoping to raise more, tons more money than last year," said jockey Patti (P.J.) Cooksey, a nine-year cancer survivor. "It's such a great cause."

Theft at the Alibi Breakfast?

The Alibi Breakfast is a gathering held each year before the Preakness to give trainers, owners and jockeys an opportunity to make predictions and talk shop leading up to the big Saturday race. Thursday, the breakfast came to a somewhat disappointing conclusion for those connected with Norman Asbjornson, the horse trained by local trainer Chris Grove.

A commemorative saddle cloth and plate meant for the horse went missing.

"Someone evidently has walked off with Norman's," said one of the owners, Tom McClay. "That's too bad, but it's the least of our worries."

Norman Asbjornson will start in the second slot in Saturday's 136th Preakness Stakes. He will be a long shot, but in a field that many consider wide open, anything can happen. Grove reported the horse worked beautifully in the starting gate at Bowie yesterday. And McClay said he hopes the race speeds are as hot as everyone wants them to be.

"We need him to get a great start," McClay said. "Then we want him to be behind the front runners and ahead of the closers. Somewhere in the middle. Then we'll see what happens. We want to be there for the finish."

Lukas at ease

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas hasn't had a Preakness horse in two years, but the five-time winner still loves coming to Pimlico Race Course. Yesterday, he was found sitting in a white plastic chair at the end of the stakes barn simply taking in the sights.

"I enjoy being here as much as ever," said Lukas, who has a horse on the Preakness undercard. "Maybe more so. I'm able to sort through all the fluff and just get down to business. I think my passion is as good as ever. I enjoy the camaraderie of the trainers and the press no longer creates the pressure that it used to, when I had the favorites like Charismatic and Tobasco Cat."

Asked how he sees the Preakness shaping up, Lukas was willing to only give the winner's name.

"I think you have to go with Animal Kingdom," he said. "He's the one who did it at the Derby. At the Derby, the night before the race I picked Animal Kingdom, Nehru and Mucho Macho Man and gave it to 150 people there. They bet it and were very happy. Here, until someone shows a little bit of something, you have to go with Animal Kingdom. He has a good conditioner and a good rider. If Nehro was here, I'd make him my second choice but he's not. So after that, it's wide open."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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