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    Diane Crump, the first woman to compete as a jockey in America and the first to ride in the Kentucky Derby, fell in love with horses when she was four years old and her parents took her to a carnival. “I cannot even begin to describe my fasciation with horses,” the 69-year-old says by phone from Virginia. As a girl, she devoured books like My Friend Flicka and The Black Stallion series. When she was 12, the family moved from their house in Connecticut on the Long Island Sound to Florida, where her dad opened a marina. They settled in Oldsmar, not far from Sunshine Park (now Tampa Bay Downs).

    Crump got a trail horse named Buckshot, then two paint mares, Patches and Lulu. She rode through orange groves and watermelon patches and along (and into) the bay. “On a Friday night my girlfriend and I would saddle up and tell our parents, ‘We’ll see you tomorrow,’” Crump says. By 13, she was handling weanlings on a Thoroughbred farm, then conditioning yearlings to be comfortable with a person onboard. “There’s nothing I didn’t do. I worked. Physical labor. It wasn’t like I was some pansy-ass,” she says.

    In 1968, citing the Civil Rights Act, Olympic equestrian rider Kathy Kusner became the first woman to get her jockey’s license, which had previously been illegal. Her male counterparts boycotted, refusing to race against her. Soon, Crump and other women were licensed. Sportswriters used the term “jockette.” “We all hated that,” Crump says, “but at that point I just wanted to ride and really didn’t give a damn what they called me.” People would question her strength. “You can’t overpower a 1,200-pound horse,” she says. “It’s about finesse.”

    On Feb. 7, 1969, Crump, who was 20, was tapped to ride a 54-1 longshot named Bridle ’N Bit, at Hialeah Park near Miami. It was the first time a woman would compete in a sanctioned pari-mutuel race in the United States. She borrowed a saddle from a friend. The horse’s trainer said, “My wife owns the horse. She said, ‘Put the girl on or I’ll get another trainer.’” One newspaper article speculated if “the willowy blonde jockette” could keep her powder dry. “Powder?” Crump says. “The only thing I’ve ever worn on my face is mud.” Armed guards escorted her to the paddock. In the starting gate, another jockey reminded her to pull her goggles down. Was she nervous? “I’m not that type of person,” Crump says. She finished 10th out of 12. “Races,” Crump says. “That’s all I wanted to do.” She rode Fathom in the 1970 Derby, the first time a woman ran for the roses, finishing 15th out of 17. (A woman hasn’t won the Derby.) Crump retired in 1999, with 235 career wins.

    “I put that one little footprint in the sand of immortality,” she says. “I just had that one little step.”

    This originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Cover photo: Diane Crump, muddy-faced, smiles wide.

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