Vicky Frontiere only rode from 1990 to 1992 and had to retire due to suffering a traumatic brain injury and even though she rode for a short time here is her story:
FOTH: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
VF: Born in Los Angeles and grew up in Las Vegas.
FOTH: What sort of girl were you growing up and did you come from a big or small family?
VH: I am an only child to the composer Dominic Frontiere and the showgirl/ice skater Maureen Frontiere. They divorced when I was little so Mom moved back to Vegas for work. I was always the smallest kid in school but quite smart. High School bored me so I took the GED and moved to L.A. with my Dad at 17. I wanted to be in the music business like he was but just did not have the talent. I always loved horses and begged for one since I could remember, but never got one. I literally learned how to ride at the track where I got a job walking hots with Curley Ortiz. He knew I had no idea what I was doing, but needed the help. Before the track would close at 10:00am, he would tack up the pony and let me learn to ride on that horse and get comfortable on the small track at Pomona.
FOTH: Did you get to see any live horse racing at a young age and if so what did you think of horse racing as a young girl?
FOTH: Now how did you start to get involved in the horse racing side of things and at the time did you know you wanted to become a jockey or did that come later on?
VH: Because I had the necessary licenses to be on the track, thanks to Curley, I went over to Santa Anita one day when the Pomona Fair was over. I stood at the rail watching and thinking how much I would like to ride on that mile race track! I don't remember exactly "how" I managed to begin exercising horses there but before I knew it I was riding for Jude Feld, Wayne Lucus, Danny Velasques, and several other trainers. I loved this job although the pay was 10.00 per horse so not much of a living, but what a life!
FOTH: I am sure at some point you were an ex-rider. How long did you gallop horses before you took out your jockey license? Did anybody teach you how to ride?
VH: I probably galloped horses for about 2 years. Danny Velasquez also galloped the horses he trained and when we would ride side by side, he really helped me learn. One day Bill Shoemaker asked me if I wanted to be a Jockey. This hero was asking if I wanted to do what he does. I thought, don't disrespect him and say you think you can do this too, but I blurted out....YES! He said, "you have the talent to be a jockey. I think you should". WOW
FOTH: Now you started riding in 1990. Tell me what you remember about your 1st race and what track was it at?
VH: My first race is an interesting story. To get your Jockey license, you must past many "tests" and 3 Jockeys and the gate Starter must sign your form before you can appear in front of the racing commission. Chris McCarron, Gary Stevens, Tucker Slender the Starter and one other Jockey who I can't remember all signed my card after breezing horses out of the gate with me, saying I was safe and in control of the horses. I went to see the Stewart's and within seconds the man in the middle chair said...."I am not going to let some GIRL get herself killed on my Race Track. Your license is denied". I was dismissed and in shock. Word spread on the backside and a trainer I galloped for, Mike Mitchell said, "you deserve your license and you will get it. I am going to name you on a horse I am racing next week and the Stewart's will have to sign off once the betting begins!" Holy Crap, that's exactly what he did. Feeling Tipsy was the horse and I WON!! I rode that horse twice and won both times.
FOTH: Did the jockeys get you good after the race and did you know it was coming?
VH: There is a tradition that when you get your first win, the jockey's throw raw eggs at you. I did not know about this but as I walked towards the small room (which is where the girl jockey had to dress and wait for the races), I got hammered with eggs! Chris McCarron then invited me into the Jocks room to watch the replay. It was at that moment that I remembered I dropped my whip in the stretch (not good) and I was sure they were all going to embarrass me about that but I was already inside the door. As the replay showed us turning for home, Chris started to basically "announce" the race. And down the stretch they come!!! Vicky Frontiere looks over her shoulder and see's Kent Desormo is in second so she throws her whip away and hand rides for the Win! What a good man Chris was and still is. I will never forget that day.
FOTH: Did you feel you were treated pretty fairly as a jockey while you were riding?
VH: Everyone on the track was nice to me, but I began at the time where owning a race horse was no longer a tax deduction. The fields had gotten very small and when you can choose from all these award winning riders, or me....well, it was difficult to get a horse to ride. The only advantage I had was I was an apprentice or "bug boy". You ride at a lighter weight which can give an advantage to the horse. You keep the "bug" for 3 years or 45 wins, whichever comes first. Every Jockey I talked to had the bug for 3 years which gives you a great foundation. I won 45 races during the first year, so now I was a Journeyman like all the men and the competition to choose me, was just too much. I ended up going to Turf Paradise in Arizona for a couple of winters and rode a lot with another female Jockey Sandy Gann who did a lot to help me. Then I spent the summer at Canterbury Downs in Minnesota where I picked up a barn for Pat Cucarillo and really got to ride. Back to Arizona in the winter and ended up in Florida for a few years. The Cuban's did not like me at all and when I would win....they did mean things to try and get me hurt. I had welts on my back from being "accidentally" whipped during races, equipment failures, broken toes, countless injuries from riding the horses no one else wanted to get on. I still won some races there but had very few friends.
FOTH: Now you rode from 1990 till 1992 full time and then you had one mount in 1993 and then you retired. What was the reason you retired?
VH: I currently suffer from a traumatic brain injury and have been diagnosed with CTE. I had several concussions over the years and recently took a fall off a horse who then kicked me in the head. This was one "blow" too many and the damage substantial. I was at the track for 10 years of my life. I know my memory fails me now but I believe I galloped for 2 years and was a Jockey the rest of the time. I believe when I retired, I had taken a bad spill, the horse had to be put down, and my Mother recalls me saying....I just can't hit the ground anymore. I am sure now; I had a bad concussion then.
FOTH: Now after you retired did you stay working in the horse racing industry or did you go and leave horse racing behind?
VH: I came back to Vegas and moved in with my Mother. I missed the track more than words can describe. I could not watch a horse race or involve myself in any conversation about horses. My soul was broken and my heart was missing. Filling out job applications was a joke. No one would hire me. My Mom saw in the newspaper that a new Hotel was opening called Treasure Island and they were holding auditions for Pirates to be in some show out front. Flash back to the track. When I was an ex-rider, the outrider Jerry Davis asked me if I wanted to ride in a movie. YES!! We went to Del Mar in the off season to shoot. The film was called "Let it Ride" with Richard Dryfess. We were there a couple days and in the movie business I was considered a Stuntwoman. The man in charge was Charlie Crowell who was a professional Stuntman and Michael J. Fox's stunt double. He took a liking to me and as we waited for the sun to be at the right angle for the Director he showed me how to do some crazy things. It was really fun. Now, back in Vegas, with no job, I went to the auditions for the Pirate show. Thousands of athletes were there, mostly men. I am about to just leave when I hear "hey Jock, what are you doing here?" Holy Crap it's Charlie!! I told him I took a final bad spill at the track, I had to retire to get my shattered jaw to heal and teeth put back, and I needed a job. He asked me if I remembered how to do the high fall he showed me on the movie set. Next thing I know he had an air bag being blown up and asked me to walk up the cat walk of the theater where the auditions were being held. When I reached the top and looked down, the air bag looked like a box of matches. This height was insane??? The man on the ledge with me to "spot" the stunt, recognized me from the track, said "good luck Jock" and when he gave me a "pat" on the back, he actually pushed me off the platform! In midair, with no other option, I remembered how to do the stunt and after what seemed like an eternity in the air, I nailed the bag, dead center!!! Charlie said, you have the job. A week later he sent me a VHS tape of the auditions where one by one, others climbed the ladder to the top platform, then climbed back down. No one else jumped, and no one question why the show had 28 men and just me =) I worked in that show for 5 years and it gave me time to heal. I am still grateful for that.
FOTH: What were some of the best things about being a jockey and some of the worst and did you ever have any problems with your weight while you were riding?
VH: The best thing is being on a good horse, coming out of the starting gate, and winning! I am naturally light and still only weigh 103 pounds. However, when you are in top condition, you are VERY muscular. Like Mike Tyson, but have to weigh so little and muscle weighs more than fat. I went to bed hungry every night, alone, which was sad. I was never invited or included to someone's home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I think back and guess being a woman, who was not bad looking, is just not the person you want your husband inviting over. You work 7 days a week and every day is either winning or losing. It was a lonely life. I had chosen the track over marriage, children, everything. Trying to start your life over again at 33 was not easy.
FOTH: What tracks did you ride at in your career and did you have a favorite one?
VH: Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Del Mar, Turf Paradise, Canterbury Downs, Calder, Gulf Stream, and Haialia (can't spell that one) =) Del Mar was the favorite because of the fun of the 7 weeks at the beach, but my heart was always at Santa Anita.
FOTH: How would you rate yourself as a rider over the 3 years that you rode?
VH: I was DAMN GOOD. But I was young and did not know how to "sell" myself. I could not get an Agent to take my book and help promote me. I lost the "bug" in the first year, riding mostly broken down horses and ship in's, so what does that tell you about my ability.
FOTH: If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to become a jockey what would you tell her?
VH: Don't do it. You will always get the left over scraps. Unless your Daddy is Wayne Lucas and will guarantee you ride the entire barn, (which he won't), it is a dangerous, tough life for a woman. Wayne and I ran into each other when I was in Florida. He said, "you look like a rider"! Nice compliment from one of the greatest trainers in the world. Then he said, nicely, I know you can ride but I will never use you. If my owners heard I was letting a girl ride for me, they would all take their horses away. You will never catch a break at the track because you are a woman, and I am sorry for that.
FOTH: Were you surprised at all that we had a horse finally win the Triple Crown this year?
VH: This was SO GREAT!!!! I do watch the triple crown races each year and what a tremendous year this was! I knew Steve Cauthen before I ever was at the track. I can't imagine winning the Triple Crown as a "bug boy"??? Where do you go from there? Chasing that had to be difficult for him. Makes me sad.
FOTH: What are some of your favorite memories of the time you were a jockey?
VH: I had the most fun just exercising the horses in the morning, being on the backside, laughing and talking with riders, grooms, and trainers. Jude Feld let me make his tack room my starting place every day. He would buy me a brightly colored jacket every year for the winter. He said his elderly owners could better see their horse workout if my jacket was BRIGHT!! He was always nice to me and my days started and ended in his tack room. Those were happy times.
FOTH: What are you doing with yourself these days and do you still miss riding at all and do you follow the sport at all?
VH: It took a long time for me to heal emotionally leaving the track. 2 years ago at my annual physical with my Doctor, now a National Top Producing Loan Officer for 16 years with Cornerstone Home Lending, stress of being the best was taking a toll. The Doctor said, you need to find something that gives you JOY. Easier said than done. I posted some pathetic thing on Facebook asking if anyone had a horse I could just hug. Instantly Robin Compagno who owns Bridlewood Farms, reached out and said...."I am up to my ears in horses! Please come out this weekend"!! I had no idea that it was not necessarily the track I was missing, but the contact and connection only few understand, with a horse. She gave me a pregnant Mare to ride and love up. It changed my life. I rode that mare until 2 days before she delivered. I could feel the baby move inside her as I rode her bareback. My 100 pound weight was not too much and I know she enjoyed the time out of the stall. Meeting a baby horse for the first time....no words. I continued to go to her barn every weekend and got interested in the sport she does which is Dressage. It is a LOT harder than it looks!!! The "Jockey" Vicky began to come out as I got fit. Forgetting I was not still in my 20's, I started getting on all the problem horses. Afraid of nothing as you can imagine. Sadly, one bucked me off which was not a big deal, but then kicked me in the head which is the blow that has now changed my life. The bad news is I have trouble speaking, memory loss, no ability to multitask, and simple math is a problem. I had to leave my career once again. The good news is, my husband bought me my very first horse!! No more riding everyone's problem horse, just riding mine own. My Joy is back and my soul feels whole again. I have just started showing in Dressage. Can you believe there is no purse money, only ribbons??? That part sucks! I don't understand why as it's a very expensive sport, lots of interest, hard work, and what amazing athletes these Dressage Horses are! There should be CASH PRIZES!!!
FOTH: Vicky I am out of questions and thumbs up for doing this interview any last words you want to say to wrap this up?
VH: My brain won't work any longer this morning =) Feel free to reach out with other questions....possibly one at a time! I am going to send you a few races of me. My favorite is the first one on a horse called Lady Sonata. Listen to the call.
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