Tampa Bay Downs is proud to introduce its blog for the 2012-13 season, “Racing in the Sunshine.” By giving visitors an up-close and personal look at the majestic world of Thoroughbred racing, the sport’s participants – racing officials, horsemen, backstretch workers, trainers, jockeys and track employees – hope to entertain and inform fans everywhere.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Linda Scocca, Silks
A Tampa Bay Downs insider’s
opinions, observations and reflections about their
Among Thoroughbred racing’s hierarchy, women were still
viewed as second-class citizens on the backside when horse-loving teenager
Linda Keelan arrived at Hazel Park outside Detroit in 1969. Female
trainers were few and far between, and it had been only a few months since
Diane Crump made history at Hialeah as the first
woman jockey in North America. “You might have
seen a few women then galloping horses or walking hots, but mostly they were
working in the shedrow,” recalls Linda, the daughter of a coal miner and blacksmith,
Avery Mullins. Linda went to work for trainer Clyde Crandwell, who figured she
would be a no-show when he told her to report for duty at 3:45 a.m. But
Crandwell’s job offer represented her window to a lifetime in Thoroughbred
racing, and she has been keeping track hours ever since. “I had quit school
when I was 15 and had two daughters before I was 18, and I can’t recommend that
to anyone,” Linda says. “But for me, horse racing has always been a passion.
Not one day in my life did I ever get up and think I had to go to work.” Linda started
ponying horses to the track at Hazel Park and
Detroit Race Course in 1972; five years later, she passed her trainer’s test at
Finger Lakes in New York
on “one of the happiest days of my life.” That same summer, she won her first
race with a Michigan-bred mare named Mylette. Training anywhere from 5-to-17
horses at a time, Linda won races at Tampa Bay Downs, Gulfstream, Finger Lakes,
Detroit, Thistledown, MountaineerPark, Canterbury and Rockingham. “I never had a lot
of owners,” she says. “Sometimes people would owe me money, so they would give
me a racehorse and I’d patch it up and win with it.” In 1982, Linda married
jockey Danny Scocca; they were together 16 years. When Linda became a jockey’s
agent, Scocca was her first client. Over the course of 11 years, she also
“hustled book” for Ronnie Allen, Jr., Ricardo Lopez, Bennie Feliciano, Heriberto
Rivera, Jr., and Gary Bain. Linda, who sold her High Hopes Thoroughbred farm in
Brooksville last year, has been in charge of the silks in the jockeys’ room at
Tampa Bay Downs since 2008. At any one time, she might be juggling more than
350 pairs of colors, between laying out that day’s silks, preparing the next
day’s sets and laundering. She also ponies horses in the morning, often working
for trainer Kathleen O’Connell, who was galloping horses at the Michigan tracks at the
same time Linda was getting her start. Linda will head to Colonial Downs in Virginia when the
2012-13 Tampa Bay Downs meet ends to work as a pony rider. In addition to her
two grown daughters, Linda has a grandson and a great-grandson.
HOMETOWN: Clintwood, Va.
BEST HORSES I’VE EVER
SEEN/TRAINED: I got to see Secretariat win the Arlington Invitational in
person and I watched Cigar win the 1995 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream. Ruffian
and Seattle Slew also fell into that category; it was breathtaking to watch
those horses run. Courtmate was probably the best horse I trained. He wasn’t
much, but he paid me and my girls just about every time he ran.
HOW I GOT STARTED IN
RACING: After we watched Northern Dancer win the 1964 Kentucky Derby on TV,
I told my father I would be the first woman to win the race. He told me ‘Well,
it’s not a game for women,’ but I knew I was going to train racehorses.
INSPIRATION: My dad, Avery Mullins. When I was growing up in Virginia, I
took out a horse I wasn’t supposed to be riding, and he went over the side of a
mountain. We had to cut the saddle off with a butcher knife so he could breathe
normally and drag him back up the side of the mountain with a bulldozer. I was
scared, but when my father got home he said ‘Young lady, if you want to ride,
you go ride.’ He always told me I could do anything I put my mind to.
ONE CHANGE I WOULD
MAKE TO RACING: Establish uniform medication rules across the board, or
allow no medication use at all.
MY FAVORITE ATHLETE:
Johnny Longden, the late Hall of Fame jockey. I used to have an art store, and
he sent me autographed items and also got me started growing orchids.
NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET
LIST OF THINGS TO DO: I’d like to go trail-riding out west and see states
like Montana, Wyoming
FAVORITE MOVIE: Phar Lap, about the great Australian
WHAT ELSE I’D BE
DOING IF. … If I had more time, I’d complete the memoir I’ve been working
on the past 30 years.
FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT
TAMPA BAY DOWNS:
The sunshine, the location, a kind dirt course and a very good turf course.
ADVICE TO SOMEONE
STARTING IN RACING: Have a love for the game and a lot of patience, and
don’t count on the horse winning to pay your bills.