the midst of a long, cold winter in New York, jockey Taylor Rice has
enjoyed a meet-long hot streak at Aqueduct Racetrack, propelling her
from relative obscurity to fifth place in the inner-track jockey
standings and placing her name alongside some of the best riders in the
Thursday, Rice has compiled a record of 40-28-34 from 200 starts,
putting her behind journeymen Irad Ortiz, Jr., who sits atop the
leaderboard with 78 winners, Jose Ortiz, Cornelio Velasquez and Manny
unknown to most prior to the 2013-2014 Aqueduct winter meet, the
25-year-old apprentice comes from a family steeped in racing tradition.
Her grandfather, Clyde Rice, grew up with D. Wayne Lukas in Antigo, Wis.
and is an owner and former trainer, and her aunt, Linda Rice, is a
fixture on the NYRA circuit and currently tied for third in the trainer
standings at Aqueduct.
immediate family is actively involved in the game, as well. Her father
is a trainer and former jockey, her mother is a farm manager, and the
first horse she rode to victory was trained by her brother.
relatively inexperienced, her strong racing background helps explain
the precocity she displays on the track, which has caught the eye of
industry veterans and casual fans alike.
already got down the hardest thing to learn, and that's patience and
how to position your horses," said former jockey and NYRA TV analyst
Richard Migliore, who heads the jockey apprentice program at The New
York Racing Assocation, Inc. (NYRA). "She puts her horses in good
position and sees a race well; that's a very hard thing for a young
rider to get. Now she just needs to work on her physical strength and
how she finishes on horses. When [her strength] catches up to her
intelligence, she's going to be the complete package."
her current success, Rice came to Belmont in the fall of 2013 for a
two-week period after Presque Isle Downs closed at the end of September.
Although she didn't ride any winners during that stretch, getting a
taste of elite racing proved useful when she moved her tack to Hawthorne
Racecourse, where she won 41 of 196 starts and finished seventh in the
jockey standings. When Hawthorne's meet came to a close at the end of
2013, Rice headed back to New York with a renewed confidence and primed
for success on a bigger stage.
was just a seven pound bug with only six wins under me when I first
came [to New York]," said Rice, who graduated from Florida State
University with a degree in international relations prior to launching
her career as a jockey. "[When I came back] the momentum I had from
Hawthorne really helped; people were willing to give me a shot."
among those ready to give her a leg up when she returned to New York
was her aunt, Linda, who encouraged her to make the move to the circuit
due to its lucrative purses. Linda was able to provide her with an
influx of shorter-priced horses to go along with the steady diet of long
shots every apprentice must first showcase their abilities on, which
proved instrumental to expanding the fledgling rider's business.
was putting her on a lot of horses I own, at first," said the trainer,
"but it wasn't long before my other owners were telling me it would be
OK to have her ride their horses, too, once she started winning. She's a
enjoying modest success at the meet, a major breakthrough occurred for
Rice when - almost by accident - she gained the respect and business of
the leading trainer on the NYRA circuit in 2013, David Jacobson.
figured as a favor to Linda [Rice] I'd put her on a horse or two; I had
no idea how she could ride," said Jacobson. "One of them won, one of
them finished third, and she did everything right. I said, 'Wow, let's
try another one, maybe it was just luck.' It turned out it wasn't luck.
She's a very skilled, talented rider and I feel she can ride against
anybody in New York."
two of the best trainers in New York giving her mounts, Rice was poised
to make a rapid ascension up the jockey standings. But perhaps more
impressive than her position on the leaderboard is the way she's
achieved it, having ridden at least 75 fewer races than each of the four
jockeys ahead of her. Her 20 percent win percentage is second only to
Irad Ortiz, Jr.'s meet-leading 23 percent clip. While such a high
conversion of winners is an obvious testament to her skill, every jockey
knows that it would be impossible to win at that rate without the help
of a savvy agent. In Rice's case, it is veteran agent Roger Sutton
navigating the volatile landscape of racing for her with precision and
borrow an old racetrack term, I like the flashing lights," said Sutton.
"9-2, 7-2, 8-5, 3-5, that's where you're going to win. I want to ride a
favorite every race. They say favorites win less than 30 percent of the
time but if I put her on a favorite, second favorite, or third
favorite, I've done my job. Then it's up to the horse to produce."
is Rice's ability to coax the best effort out of every horse she gets
aboard - whether it's a favorite or a long shot - that has separated her
from many of the other apprentice jockeys who try to make a go of it
during the winter at the Big A. However, despite her tremendous success,
Rice is by no means a finished product, as she will readily admit.
definitely need to improve my strength, my finish," said Rice, echoing
the words of Migliore. "I just want to keep getting better and better."
the waters will get deeper when many of the top riders return from
Florida, Rice is hopeful her attitude and professionalism will continue
to make her an attractive option to prospective employers. Her gaudy win
percentage may dip but her ability has already made a lasting
impression on owners, trainers, and fans.