In what might be the first marriage proposal ever offered in the paddock at the nation’s third-oldest Thoroughbred race course, Louisiana-born jockey Anna Roberts was quick to answer “Yes” when boyfriend Will Werner, son of Fair Grounds-based trainer Ronny Werner, asked for Miss Roberts’ hand in marriage shortly after she rode in Wednesday’s final race of the afternoon.
“Will was standing in the middle of the paddock watching the replay of the race and called me over to him as I was walking back to the jockeys’ room,” recalled Roberts Thursday, speaking over the phone in the midst of a drive to Texas to meet members of her upcoming extended family.
“I asked him, ‘What are you doing?’ and he said, ‘I’m about to propose to you,’ and I said, ‘But I’m all dirty now,’” Roberts said, recalling the initial conversation as best she could on the day after the event. “I was very surprised, but I think I said, ‘Yes’ right away.”
What eyewitnesses saw while remaining at a respectful distance, including Miss Roberts’ mother Lynn Roberts, Ronny Werner and his family, and other jockeys who had ridden in Wednesday’s ninth race, was the young veterinary student Werner get down on one knee and present his lady with a bouquet of flowers, which seemed to stun her for a moment before she suddenly jumped into her intended’s arms, turned excitedly toward those around her and then pumped her fist in a decidedly enthusiastic manner.
Roberts’ mother, the Eclipse Award-winning photographer of Fair Grounds’ Hodges Photography, recorded the event for posterity.
“After a few moments, she came up to me and hugged me,” said Lynn Roberts, appreciative of the fact that Werner had previously come to her to ask for her daughter’s hand in marriage. “She said, ‘I think I’m going to cry,’ but she didn’t. I could tell she was very happy and very excited. Then the people from both of our families went inside for a champagne toast in the Stakes Room.”
With a year and a half to go in vet school at Ross University on the Caribbean island of St. Kitz, Werner, 25, of Snyder, Texas, and his new fiancé Roberts, 23, of Franklinton, Louisiana, have not set a wedding date, but will be spending the Christmas holiday in Texas before returning to Louisiana before the first of the year.