Letter to the Editor: A Woman Among Men

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Linda Rice | Horsephotos

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It was about 9:15 a.m. on a chilly day at Belmont and as I headed down the aisle towards the back door of Barn 44 for what felt like the 50th time since arriving at 5:15 a.m., a hot walker stopped me in my tracks saying with a laugh, “You two started neck and neck earlier, but now she has 10 lengths on you.” The woman he was referring to was top trainer Linda Rice and he couldn’t have summed her up much better.

A client once compared Rice to a champion boxer, you knock her down and she comes right back swinging. You may start on her level, but it won’t be long before she blows right by you because she has no quit. Hard-working doesn’t even begin to describe Rice, who started her training in the world of horse racing at birth under the expert eye of her father Clyde Rice. A pioneer in the pinhooking game, his lifelong friend D. Wayne Lukas referred to him as a great horseman with an incredible eye for a horse.

On Sunday, Rice reached a career milestone, winning her 2,000th race with Scilly Cay (Fed Biz) in the Rego Park S. She is the third woman to do so in North America, but is well clear of her fellow female trainers in other categories, such as stakes wins with 199 and graded stakes wins with 46, eight of those being Grade Is, as well as over $80 million in earnings.

People tend to focus on Rice’s career achievements in relation to her gender, which is irrelevant as far as she is concerned. Rice always says racing is a tough game for anyone, male or female. And, despite the often discussed gender gap, she is absolutely right. The veteran conditioner’s success shouldn’t be measured by her gender because she is 50 lengths clear of the next female trainer on the North American standings. She had a personal best season as far as earnings in 2019 with over $7.25 million and scored 145 wins overall, landing her at 15th in the nation.

The petite blonde, born in Wisconsin and raised in Pennsylvania, has not only survived but thrived on what is arguably the most competitive circuit in the country. With several leading trainer titles to her credit, including one at Saratoga, Rice has finished in the top five on the NYRA circuit in the past seven years and last year was second to only soon-to-be four-time Eclipse winner Chad Brown with 106 wins.

What is remarkable about this is not the fact that a woman finished second to Brown on the toughest circuit in the country or that a woman beat the likes of Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen, Bill Mott and Mark Casse to do so. The truly noteworthy aspect is that Rice accomplished this feat with a third of the number of horses Brown has and a barn that is not littered with seven-figure purchases or pedigrees overflowing with champions and Grade I winners.

Rice’s best runners have come from much more modest beginnings, such as dual Grade I-winning sprinter Palace (City Zip), who she claimed for just $20,000 and retired to the Spendthrift stallion barn with over $1.5 million in earnings. Or champion and millionaire La Verdad (Yes It’s True), who is out of a mare Rice purchased for $115,000 as a 2-year-old. The horsewoman also trained her Eclipse winner’s younger sister Hot City Girl, a Grade III winner and Grade I-placed daughter of top stallion City Zip, who is also a former Rice pupil. Let’s not forget her most recent top-level scorer Voodoo Song (English Channel), winner of four races at Saratoga in 2017 and the 2018 GI Fourstardave H.

Rice has one of the sharpest eyes in the game when it comes to claiming, dropping a slip on the likes of MGSW Kid Cruz (Lemon Drop Kid) and MSW Do Share (Candy Ride {Arg}) early in their careers. One of her most recent claiming scores is Wicked Trick (Hat Trick {Jpn}), who has won three straight since being haltered by Rice for $16,000, earning more than seven times his tag. The one-eyed gelding is being pointed at the Jan. 17 GIII Toboggan S.

Like her father, Rice has a highly trained eye at the sales, purchasing accomplished runners such as GSW Holiday Disguise (Harlan’s Holiday) and multiple stakes winners Newly Minted (Central Banker), Split Time (Take Charge Indy), Startwithsilver (Jump Start) and Sower (Flatter).

It was the fleet-footed La Verdad who first put Rice on my radar back when I was a more casual fan of the game. Once I joined the TDN in 2013 and racing became my life, I followed the razor-sharp conditioner’s career diligently and she became to me what Michael Jordan might be to a high school basketball player or Derek Jeter to a young baseball fanatic.

When I had the opportunity to meet her in June of 2016 while on assignment at Belmont, it was a dream come true for a young woman in the industry and lifelong horse lover. A few years later, we became good friends and I have been lucky enough to shadow her on the job. As that hot walker said, Rice’s day will wear you out. She starts at 4 a.m., her sharpest hour as she says, and does not stop for a minute until about 6 p.m.

Not many people are lucky enough to meet the top-level professionals they admire from afar, never mind have them become their mentor. And those that do are often disappointed as the person they imagined is usually not the person they find in real life. However, that could not be further from the truth for me. Linda Rice is everything I pictured she would be during my time spent studying her career and much, much more. She is a role model, not just for women in racing, but for anyone in racing.

A full-time staff writer for the TDN, author Christie DeBernardis also does freelance work for Linda Rice Racing among others.

 

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