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The ladies of the backstretch of Century Mile will ride for a great cause - Ovarian Cancer Canada - on Saturday. “You hear a lot about breast cancer but not much about ovarian cancer,” said Janna Snyder, an exercise rider who came up with the idea of having eight women ride thoroughbreds for the charity.
“I brought it up to Theresa Sealy and she said if you can find at least five more riders we’ll talk about it,” Snyder said of the Manager of Backstretch Development for Horse Racing Alberta, who organized Snyder’s idea.
It wasn’t long before Snyder, who gallops horses in the mornings for Greg Tracy and Robertino Diodoro, found eight very willing female riders. “When I told Theresa that she said ‘Ok, let’s do this.’”
Each year in Canada over 3,100 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Almost 2,000 of them will die - seven in 10, within five years of the diagnosis. The goal is to decrease that number by 50 per cent.
The non-betting race is especially close to the heart of Amanda Dixon, who gallops horses for Dave Nicholson and Deanna Walper - including Fall Classic Red Diamond Express winner Solo Ring. “I personally have known two ladies that had ovarian cancer,” said Dixon, who is also the only female on the starting gate crew. “One is a survivor; the other, unfortunately, passed away. So this is really special to me.”
Dixon may have an edge. In 2012 and 2013 the horse people put together two ‘Powder Puff’ Derbies in support of breast cancer research at Northlands Park. Dixon won them both. “I won the first one pretty easily. In the second one Alivia Kettleson and I were head to head. She almost caught me. We were laughing together at the finish line.”
“I remember the whole backstretch was watching and cheering,” said Dixon, who was a chemist for eight years before returning to her passion of horses and horse racing. “Winning those two charity races was really neat and I’m sure it will be again on Saturday,” said Dixon, who will also be riding Ever Thus, owned by Crystal Cates and Gonzalo Anderson and trained by Alberta’s runaway leading conditioner Tim Rycroft. Ever Thus has finished first or second five times this year and won his last race going away on September 10.
“Almost everybody knows someone who has had or does have cancer,” said Dixon, who grew up on a farm and used to barrel race. “It touches a lot of people. So this race will bring people together. It’s such a good cause.”
Proceeds support Ovarian Cancer Canada, which champions the health and well-being of women with ovarian cancer and others at risk of the disease while advancing research to save lives. Originally the goal was to raise $1,000. But Sealy said they have already raised $7,000 so now the goal is $10,000.
Only one of the eight riders, Rachel Slevinksy, is a fully accredited jockey. On September 2nd, she won her first race with Rod Cone-trained Sophie McTrophy pulling away by four lengths and got the usual water-bucket shower. Sophie McTrophy paid $14.50 to win.
“Winning that race was an incredible feeling,” said Slevinsky. “She broke right on top. Then I sat half a length behind the leader and got her to settle on the backstretch. At the quarter pole she was gone. This race is very important in that we are supporting other women in a male-dominated sport. I dream big. I’m a pretty tough cookie. I fight hard and I’ll be fighting to win this race. To win this race would be very special too.”
Kaylea Richardson used to be a jockey riding for two years in 2010 and 2011 when she finished in the top three with 11 of her 30 mounts. “I gallop horses every morning. But I miss race riding. “I’ve been thinking non stop about Saturday.”
So has Snyder. “I’ve never raced in a race before. I’m really excited. I’m stoked. I can’t wait. “I love going into the starting gate in the mornings so I’ll be super excited on Saturday. I’m not nervous now but I’m sure I will be on Saturday afternoon. I’ve been counting down the days since we started the ball rolling. We’ve been planning this for quite a while. Through Jean Kruse, the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society is partnering with us looking after sponsorship. We’re also working with the starter and the stewards. It’s been a group effort.”
The eight ‘jockeys’ are Snyder, Dixon, Slevinsky, Richardson, Kettleson, who recently won her first stakes race as a trainer, Taylor Sousae, Kimberlea Calhoun and Kate Golka. Five of the girls are graduates of the Olds College Exercise rider program.
When Northlands held the ‘Powder Puff’ Derbies, everyone wore pink in support of breast cancer. This Saturday people are encourage to wear teal which is the colour for ovarian cancer.
“Ten years ago we painted the Park pink,” said Snyder. “Now we are going to paint the Mile teal.” You can donate at the track on Saturday or you can go to the website link here the fundraising page.
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