In just five years, Baltimore born and bred jockey Forest Boyce has established herself as a contender in the competitive sport of flat racing. Last year, she ranked seventh in local standings with 57 wins. With the Preakness approaching, she’s eyeing the stakes races, hoping for mounts on both Black Eyed Susan and Preakness days. Success for the female jockey should come as no surprise given her lifelong love of riding, an affection that runs in her DNA. From an early age, her Monkton family exposed her to the sport with gatherings to watch the Kentucky Derby, with time spent following horses with her uncle, horse trainer Tim Boyce, and with cartoons her grandmother, Nancy Boyce, penned for Maryland Horse.
For most of her life, Boyce rode at Olney Farm in Joppa, developing a love of showing and fox hunting. At Garrison Forest School, from which Boyce graduated in 2003, she competed on the polo team. As a rider, Boyce jokes, “I was a jack of all trades, master of none.” In 2009, however, Boyce was determined to change that impression and set her sights on professional flat track racing. By her second race, she graduated from a ten-pound bug rider to the winner’s circle, her first win and, for Boyce, the best one.
Boyce credits her early success to many influential mentors. Growing up, she learned a lot from Jose Vielga, right-hand man to renowned trainer Dickie Small. Vielga instructed her to ride “without realizing I was being taught,” she says. He would spend time with her during morning breezes helping to really prepare Boyce for the nuances of racing on the track. Since the beginning of her racing career, Vincent “Jimbo” Bracciale has been her biggest mentor.
Besides her exciting first win, Boyce counts last year’s unexpected win at Virginia Oaks as one highlight in her young career. Earlier that day, she had mounted a favorite in the Delaware Oaks. Despite its favorable odds, horse and rider were beaten. Following the disappointing loss, Boyce had to regroup and drive four hours to Virginia where she had been offered a ride in the Oaks. The experience in Delaware and the long day had her dragging. She dreaded facing a race on a 30 to 1 filly, particularly after the sting of losing on the favorite. Miraculously, she and the filly, Nellie Cashman, pulled out a win. The surprise win, contrasted with the unexpected loss earlier in the day, made victory that much sweeter.
Another win that stands out in Boyce’s mind as a highlight was her 2013 Maryland Million victory aboard Eighttofasttocatch. The seven-year old gelding was a 2-5 track favorite going into the seven-horse headline race at Laurel. Boyce was confident with her rail-side position, and the feeling proved to be justified for both jockey and horse. The win was especially poignant because it was one of the last for the horse’s 94-year old owner, Arnie Heft, an avid sportsman who also co-owned the Baltimore Bullets and was a minor league Orioles pitcher in the 1930s.
Not all days are marked by such success. For Boyce, the greatest challenge of being a professional jockey is trying to be “everywhere at once.” Like her daylong trip from Delaware to Virginia, the job demands appeasing different tracks, trainers and owners. Boyce notes that in the past, jockeys could ride out and count on mounts at just one track. Today, however, jockeys must travel to keep their mounts. For Boyce, it means navigating between daily morning rides at Pimlico and Fair Hills to afternoons back at Pimlico.
Like her fellow Baltimoreans, Boyce looks forward to the upcoming Preakness weekend, eyeing rides on both Black Eyed Susan and Preakness days. Of course, she would love to ride a horse like California Chrome and sees no reason why the Derby winner cannot go the distance. Boyce believes the horse’s rags to riches story is “exactly what horse racing needs.” In the meantime, Boyce will focus on her own Preakness weekend mounts, giving her hometown and many aspiring young female jockeys someone to champion.