The Jockey Life: Mary Bontrager's First Race

Horse Racing Radar
Valerie Mellema
Valerie Mellema is a Staff writer for Horse Racing Radar
Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Horse Racing Radar is excited to bring you a regular column following new jockey, Mary Bontrager. We first met Mary just a few weeks ago when she received her jockey's license in Idaho. This past weekend she rode in her first Quarter Horse race at 307 Energy Downs in Wyoming. We are excited to follow her along on this journey of being a mom, exercise rider and now, new jockey.

Mary rode in Race 2, a 350 yard race for the Wyoming Bred Trials. Her horse is a three year old Quarter Horse colt named LOTA WHOOPS. The start was incredibly slow as two horses did not want to load and required several men to push them into the starting gates and then reared, causing even more commotion. LOTA WHOOPS stood quietly but went wide on the break. The break is everything in Quarter Horse racing as the distances are short sprints of several yards rather than the furlongs or miles in Thoroughbred racing, not giving the jockey much time to correct and get to the front. Mary corrected her mount well and finished fifth, but just a nose off of fourth. 

First race in the books! Looking back at last weekend's race in Gillette, Wyoming, it's all  been worth it. 

This year didn't start off easy. After my accident in Rock Spring, Wyoming in September (where I broke my ankle), I didn't know if I'd see this moment. 

Dru Hall, the trainer I had worked for all year, moved to Oklahoma, which left me without a barn to call my own and a broken ankle. I had worked so hard though and so close to testing for my license before my accident. I just couldn't see giving up. 

I let my ankle heal and by the beginning of November, I was dying to get back in the saddle. With no barn, I contacted my close friend and great jockey, Todd Thomas, to see if he had some safe stock I could see what my ankle could hold. Todd has for years always been the one to have something for me to gallop. After we had taken a few I knew I needed to do anything I could to achieve this dream. 

A friend in the industry, Rick Hillstead, gave my number to a Wyoming trainer he knew, Steve Newman, that was in need of a rider. Steve and I hit it off from day one! We worked hard together for months to get to this moment. 

Finally, this weekend we made it! Probably a much bigger day than Steve understood, but for that man believing in me, I'll ride my heart out for him!

This weekend we do it all over again! First I have to do the mommy thing though! My daughter, Ariel, has been doing this with me since she was four months old; she's now four years old. Last weekend, however, she helped dad hold down the fort at home while I made the nine hour drive to Gillette, Wyoming's 307 Energy Downs. This weekend, I hope she gets to go, so I've been making calls and plans. 

I will be first call for Steve's group as well as Jamie Pucheneaux, a trainer that aw my first race and asked if I would jockey his Thoroughbreds. The answer was of course, YES!

Last year I galloped only Thoroughbreds. The idea of finally getting those races is another goal I'm working hard at.

Today is Tuesday and I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for the draw results that will tell me how many mounts I have this weekend. It also tells me what days I'm needed in Wyoming, which will help me plan my week and weekend. Of course, being a mom and balancing the track life is hard, but worth every minute of it!

As of Tuesday night, Mary told HRR that she got two horses for Friday's races. She will be on SPRINKLED IVORY in race six, breaking from the first post as well as a Thoroughbred named TOP HAT HUSTLE, breaking from the three hole going five furlongs in the seventh race.

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