“If I wasn’t a jockey, I think I would have liked to become a paramedic or something along those lines. I’m all about the hands-on, fast-paced environment and I imagine it would be a pretty good adrenaline rush, kind of like I get from riding. There is no way I could sit at a desk so that would be the ideal job for me. Every day would be different. I like that it’s a demanding job, physically, mentally and emotionally. I admire paramedics the way I once admired jockeys.”
There was a time, not so long ago, when people didn’t take Isabelle Wenc seriously when she said she wanted to be a jockey. They certainly are now.
The 4’11”, 105-pound self-confessed “crazy horse girl,” had a wide-eyed fascination for horses from an early age. It was a television series, however, that gave her a clear picture of what her calling in life would be.
“I always had a love for horses, but I found horse racing in particular so fascinating when I would see it on TV as a kid,” said the 21-year-old Wenc. “The show ‘Jockeys’ that aired on Animal Planet that starred Mike Smith, Chantal Sutherland, Joe Talamo and other riders – it really made me realize that I would love to be a jockey.
“You got to see both sides, seeing the jockeys come out of the jock’s room in their silks, being legged up on beautiful horses, almost looking like rockstars,” she continued. “You also saw the more personal triumphs and struggles that they went through as athletes. As I got older and throughout high school, I started to do my research and figure out that being a rider is what I wanted to do once I graduated. Nobody took me seriously when I would tell them I wanted to be a jockey, but to me, it just felt like the right thing to do.”
Wenc reminded herself of that at 10:31 p.m., on the evening of August 16, 2014, race nine at Marquis Downs in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
The apprentice, in her first race, was aboard Lasting Cash, who was 7-2 on the toteboard when the gates opened for the 6 ½-furlong race.
“It was the most nerve racking, exciting night of my life,” recalled Wenc. “(Laughing) I was set to ride the last race of the night which meant I had the privilege of sitting in the jock’s room all night wondering what in the world I got myself into. I was so nervous. To this day, all I remember was being legged up in the paddock and then going behind the gate ready for post time. I do not remember post parade or the minutes that followed. Once I was loaded that’s when it all finally felt real. Before I knew it the gates popped open and we were off. I lost my left pedal first jump out of the gate which didn’t seem like a good start, but I managed to kick it back a few jumps after, lucky for me.
“We ended up sixth,” she continued. “I couldn’t believe how fast it was all over. All the blood sweat and tears I put into getting to that point for what seemed like 30 seconds. When I brought the horse back to Don (trainer Senebald) to be unsaddled, he had the biggest smile on his face almost as if I had won the race. He told me he was proud of me and patted me on the back. That moment and race meant everything to me and I will carry it with me throughout my career.”
That career has yielded 165 career starts – as of July 2 – accompanied by 14 wins and standing as a finalist for the 2015 Sovereign Award in the top apprentice category.
Wenc is eager to add to those totals and accolades.
“The most rewarding part of it all, as cliché as it sounds, is crossing the wire first and going to the winner’s circle,” she said. “There’s no better feeling in this entire world than the happiness I feel when a horse tries their guts out for me and we work as a team to win together. I don’t think it’s a feeling I will ever get tired of. I guess if you want something bad enough you will find a way to do it and so I did.”