Jul 13 2014

Meet Taylor Rice – An Exuberant Young Jockey

Taylor Rice (Photo courtesy of Zilla Racing Stable)

Taylor Rice (Photo courtesy of Zilla Racing Stable)

On a recent visit to Belmont Park, I was able to sit down and have a nice talk with apprentice jockey Taylor Rice.  To describe Taylor as exuberant might be an understatement.  She is so full of energy and enthusiasm that I felt at any moment she might burst like a water filled balloon.

During our conversation she described her strong family bonds, indirect path to becoming a jockey, and the thrill of competing in a game where she feels that she is finally on a level playing field with her competitors.  So enjoy reading about this exuberant young jockey.

How deep are your bloodlines in the horse racing business?

It started with my grandfather Clyde Rice. He’s been in the business since my dad was young. My dad and my uncle both were jockeys. I have a handful of aunts and uncles who were also jockeys. But in my generation, I’m the only one small enough. My couple cousins and two brothers are too big. Both my brothers and my dad train at Presque Isle Downs. Wayne, Kevin, and Adam Rice – that’s my dad and my two brothers.

My family moved to Florida about the time I was born and they were doing mostly the yearlings to two-year-olds and horse sales. So I didn’t know anything about the race track. So for me, it was graduate from high school and go to college. Racing wasn’t even a thought.

But I’ve ridden horses my whole life, me and both of my brothers. I’ve dabbled in the rodeo and junior rodeo, but I preferred playing high school sports. I played volleyball, basketball, and softball all through high school.

So, where did becoming a jockey come from?

When I started college my dad went to training and racing again, because the market went down. So I went and visited him and my two brothers at Presque Isle Downs in between semesters. My brothers graduated from high school before I graduated college and that’s (racing) how they were both making a living. So I graduated from college and I’m thinking what am I going to do? I need a job. I realized my brothers were making a salary doing stuff I had done my whole life, and I said, well that’s what I’m going to do!

I had to get back in shape because four years of college and sitting on my butt wasn’t too kind to me. I graduated in December 2010. First of the year my dad went to legging his horses back up for the races. In April we went to Presque Isle Downs for the summer. That was my first summer on the track and that was hard. Oh man. You work from sunup to sundown. My dad had like 25 head. Him, his girlfriend, and I took care of them all. I was a groom and we galloped all of them every morning, and then ran them in the afternoon. All while I was trying to get back into shape. And not being used to that, oh … it was a long summer.

I went home that winter and broke babies with my aunt and uncle on their farm, then back to Presque Isle the next summer. Back home the next winter and broke babies for my grandfather. And then back to Presque Isle last summer.

In 2012 we went for the fall meet at Keeneland. I galloped there, but that was it. I broke all of my grandfathers babies and I did all of their breezes for their under tack show. So that was doing video, a step up to the next level of working horses. That might have been the kicker for me … thinking, well you might be alright at this.

Did you realize that on your own, or did anybody tell you that?

I think it was those works for the under tack show. My grandfather was a big push, he said “Let Taylor work those horses” for the sale. And I went back to the track that summer, and I was working for a guy who was putting me on everything, and my aunt and uncle were letting me work horses, and it was out of the gate and on and on … and I was like, yea, I’m alright at this.

My Aunt Kitty, she said, “I don’t know when you want to ride, but at least start the license process.” Two of her sisters were jockeys and they said it’s going to take awhile. “Even if you don’t ride right away, at least get the process started.” I sat on the starting gate every day for a month straight, watching every race.   It took them almost six weeks to give me my approval for my license. So they finally approve me and my brother Kevin looks at me and says, “Well, are you ready or not? Because I’m entering Grandpa’s filly next week. Can I name you on it?”

Presque Isle Downs Gate

Presque Isle Downs

So my first horse my grandfather owned and that was my first winner, August 4th, 2013. I rode for two months at Presque Isle, through the end of September. After that closed I came here (NY) … not sure where to go. I was here for 2 weeks and rode a handful of races. I’d just started my bug. I’m a 7-pound apprentice with not even 100 races under my belt, and I’m at Belmont … wasn’t really the place for me to be just yet. I still had a lot to learn.

So the 3rd week of October I went to Chicago and rode at Hawthorne for the rest of October, November, and December. I had a helluva winter there. I got to ride a lot of horses and I won 41 races there.

I come back here the 1st of the year with a whole different outlook on everything, so much more experience … you can’t learn it without doing it. I just needed to ride races. You can’t just – well ride one today and then wait all day tomorrow to go out and try again. When you ride five today, or eight today, you have ten minutes (if that) to change, look back at your Form, clear your head, and try again. You just keep doing it over and over again – the repetition is what you need.

Who were your mentors along the way?

When I was in Chicago, I talked to my brother Kevin every day before the races. We’d go through the program. He’s very good at handicapping races and he’s a good horseman. My dad also was a jockey before, so it was a lot of working with him and my brothers … just galloping horses and working horses. I’ve got Kevin sitting next to me on his horse and he’s yelling at the same time, “Hit em.” I’m like … okayyy. He yells “You can’t quit pushing!” I got my other little brother and he’s going “Grow some balls, let’s go, send him! What are you doing?”

And learning what makes horses happy and what helps here and there. All that I’ve used so much in the races. You know, I’ve been the big sister and now they’ve been the big brothers. Everybody thought they were older, because I showed up last to the track. That was a weird transition period, of them knowing about this whole world that I had no idea about. They’d been getting up on horses and babies for 3 years before I even attempted to do anything and I had to go to them to ask questions.

You sound like you’re pretty close with your brothers.

Adam, Taylor, and Kevin Rice

Adam, Taylor, and Kevin Rice

There’s a year and a half between each of us and growing up we worked our behinds off together, and it’s continued that way. I went over to PID to ride some of my brother’s horses and Saturday I’m going over to Woodbine to ride one for Kevin.

It’s funny, because Kevin had all the faith in the world; he’s like “Ok, you ready to go?” And Adam wouldn’t put me on a horse. Those two months I was there, did everything he could to not put me on a horse. They trained for my grandfather, and he told them, “Taylor gets first call on everything.” Adam did everything he could, “Naw, she’s not ready yet.”   Now he’s like, “Are you coming? Are you going to make it?”

Is your grandfather saying, “See, I told you?”

I don’t think anyone was more excited than he was. I wish he could have made it up to the track for my first race, but it’s one of those things. He’s getting old. We’re hoping that he’ll make it up to Saratoga this year. That would be exciting.

What’s it like working for your Aunt Linda (Rice)?

It’s funny, at first she’d put me on horses she owned. You know, it’s hard to talk owners into 1. Riding an apprentice and 2. Riding your niece apprentice. But it wasn’t long before her owners were going, “You can put her on ours too.”

You know everybody thought when I came here last October; well your Aunt is there, so you’re all set. I said, “No, she has a business to run too. It does not prove that I’m capable. She can tell them whatever she wants, but she still has a business to run.” So I go to Chicago and when I come back she can make a better case. It’s all about numbers, everything is about numbers here. If she can prove it to them, it’s a lot easier. It’s worked out well. I’ve been very fortunate.

This can be a dangerous game. How do you try to avoid injuries?

My dad would say “Tuck and roll.” Because, if you’ve got arms sticking out you’re going to get hit. Horses really don’t want to hurt you. So, if you can fall and stay small, they’re going to do their best and try to get around you.

I’ve had two falls out of the gate; one in Chicago and one here. In Chicago, he kind of lost his footing, and I got hit and kind of just rolled off the side. At Aqueduct, he stumbled and went straight to his face and I yard darted my head right into the ground … right out of the gate. But, like I said, tuck and roll. I hit hard initially, but it wasn’t that bad.

But three weeks ago I was on a first time starter on the grass; you know broke good, sat there nice, a little green around the turns, straightened up for home and I’m making a nice run, so I’m like “let’s go.” I hit her right handed a couple of times, switched the stick, hit her left handed and we’re straight … but then she just got tired. I’m like ok, tuck my stick down, we’re just going to ride home, because she’s clearly tired.

I’m only feet away from the wire and out of nowhere she hangs a left hand turn. It was not fun. She took out a big section of rail … left me here, then went across the inner turf and “chili whopped” herself right over. Right at the wire too, where they’re watching the finish.   You know, slow motion, one horse after another, and then you see “foo woop” in the background.

Thank goodness it was a temporary fence on the turf course. I hit one of the posts right across my thigh.   I think that stopped me. That was sore for awhile – had a big ole bruise on my thigh. I rode the next day though, four races. You think about it, but once you get to riding you don’t really anymore. That one was so out of the ordinary, so I don’t think it bothered me as much. Maybe if I’d have clipped heels, I’d be a little more nervous about running up on another horse. I’ve gotten pretty close there and you hear “Clack, clack, clack … and you’re like woo hoo there, easy.” But this one made no sense, it was straight, straight, straight and then woop, took a left hand turn. Like see ya, I’m done.

How do you deal with the emotional side of the game, like dealing with a trainer who is upset after a race?

I’m a little bit more fortunate, in that I started this at age 25 and not 16 or 18. So I’ve had to deal with these people and the public relations side of it. So, you nod and smile, and keep moving. That’s from my dad, because ok, what can you say? There’s nothing you can say at that point. Oh, and it helps that I’ve been on the other side too. I’ve been the owner/trainer, trying to talk to the jocks. So, I know where they’re coming from. As a trainer, well it’s not my fault, it’s certainly not the owner’s fault, so whose fault is it? It’s gonna be the jockey’s fault! Having that understanding has been a big help.

Do you ever think how some trainers have a lot at stake in each start?

Yes, and me having been on that side, thinking “I have put so much time into that one race, and if it doesn’t go right, who knows when I’m going to get this horse in again?” So, if they come out with instructions, I do everything I can to follow their instructions. That’s the plan they’ve come up with. They’ve done this and this to get to the race and it’s the plan they have to get the outcome they want. So I try my hardest to do what they want me to do.

What happens when you do what they tell you to do, and it doesn’t work out, and they’re still angry?

I did exactly what you told me to do, and you’re still angry? Ok, yes sir, have a good day. But, who else can they blame? They’ve worked hard. Somebody’s to blame. It’s got to be the jockey’s fault. It’s the easiest one.

Now some people have come to pick me because I make the split second decisions … I mean, it doesn’t always go right, but hopefully I make the right decision and we still get a decent outcome when it doesn’t quite go as they planned.

A trainer told me, good jockeys don’t need instructions, and bad ones don’t listen. I do like to talk with the trainers and make sure we’re on the same page. Like my Aunt, if I’ve got a speed horse, we’ll find the other speed and she’ll go, “Figure it out.”

So, after all of that, do you come up with a plan?

Taylor Rice - Post Race

Taylor Rice – Post Race

There’s an idea. I got to where I was trying to plan too much, thinking too much. It’s too unpredictable. They’re animals with people on them, so who knows. There are people who tend to do certain things. Like they thought I tended to run up the rail, but I can go outside too you know. So, I just go out there with an idea.

Like I said, if I have a speed horse, I’ll look for the other speed in the race. Am I going to be able to get out there and sit nice and easy on the front? Am I going to have pressure? If I’m on a closing horse, I still look for the speed to see if I’m going to get enough pace to follow. But, that’s about it. You know, I went to try to planning more, and thought I was getting smart … and it wasn’t working out the way I had planned.

So Saratoga is next?

I’m excited about Saratoga. Everybody says, “Saratoga. That’s the place to be.” I thought Belmont was the place to be. And they just keep telling me, “Saratoga.” And, I’m like, “Well … ok then.”

I’ve only visited Saratoga three times since the 1st of the year and twice was in the snow. I have been to Keeneland. My brother and I went to the Fall meet of 2013, because everybody’s got to do it at some point. I was there opening day and saw all the craziness. But, it’s awesome. People are there at 6:00 in the morning to watch horses train. What? Nobody does that.

As a jockey, does it matter to you when there is a big crowd at the racetrack?

You think this is empty (Belmont), I was at Presque Isle for 3 years. Every day it’s just us, and the grooms, owners, and trainers … our own cheering squad. Dollar hot dog and beer night – that’s when we filled up the place! And it’s not very full. The day of my first race and my first win was probably the biggest crowd they had. It was their one big Stakes race all summer. But, we were like a family over there. It’s the same people every year. And then I go to Hawthorne … in the winter! Another place that’s pretty much a ghost town, because it’s ridiculously cold. Then I go to Aqueduct the first of the year and it isn’t much better. And it just wouldn’t warm up this year. And at Aqueduct, if the wind was blowing the right way, it’s dead silence. You can hear everything, and it’s like, “We’re never going to make it home. I’m tired, she’s tired, and I can hear … nothing. Oh man. And you got nothing cheering you on.”

We had a pretty decent crowd this past Father’s Day (at Belmont), and you can hear them when you’re coming down the lane. It was like, “Oh yea … come on.”

You seem like you’re having a good time?

Taylor Rice in Winner's Circle

Taylor Rice in Winner’s Circle

Yea, I love it.

Everybody says, “Oh, how long are you going to do this? Are you going to ride for a couple of years, then do something else? Are you going to use your degree?” I’m like, well … when I don’t like horses anymore, then I’ll do something else. But right now I like horses. And it pays the bills.

I do love horses and we get along pretty well. And I’m competitive obviously. I’ve grown up with two brothers and my dad and played every sport you can think of. And this is one where I’m on even terms … these guys are the same size as me. My whole life I’ve been playing with ginormous girls … or, every guy I ever played basketball with was eight foot tall. And now, it’s like, what’s this guy got? No advantage over me, none whatsoever. And I’m naturally this small, where a lot of these guys have to work pretty hard at it, so sometimes I feel like I have the advantage.

You know, I just like horses and I have fun with them. My dad, brothers, and my grandfather … we worked a lot with horses. And it’s just making horses happy. You know it doesn’t take all that much. Just be patient. But that’s like everybody. Horses are like people, you can’t deal with all of them the same way, and they don’t all have the same personalities.


As I was reading this article a final time, I was fearful that the printed words don’t really do justice to the feelings I felt when I was talking to Taylor. Her vocal intonations, gestures, and facial expressions are priceless. Trust me when I say this girl is just plain fun to meet in person. I predict, she just might win the hearts of fans at Saratoga this summer … and some races as well. Go get ’em Taylor!

Neal Headshot2
By Neal Benoit

6 comments on “Meet Taylor Rice – An Exuberant Young Jockey

  1. Jenny and I just happen to be there on August 4, 2013. We visited with Taylor and she was one excited jockey. We have followed her since and hope to see her at Saratoga.

    Bill Phillips on
  2. im a guy from Chicago that’s been around horse racing since the 70s and I love to see females go for it and do good in horse racing and I was wondering if she or anyone can send me a winners circle picture very loyal fan and handicapper thanks for the post my address is 723 water street apt302 excelsior mn 55331

    edgar hilliard on

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