Trailblazing Jockey Now A Trainer : Tomey Swan

By Katie Merritt

Twelve years ago, Tomey Swan wasn’t training racehorses, she was riding them. After the Supreme Court ruling in January of 1969 that allowed women to ride in pari-mutuel races, Swan was one of the first to do so, paving the way for future women in the racing industry.  In her 35-year career as a jockey she rode both Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. Swan rode, and was successful at, tracks all over the country – including at Canterbury Park.

Tomey was fortunate to grow up in a racing family – her dad was one of the leading Quarter Horse trainers on the West Coast, so she grew up on the racetrack – it was home. Nearing the time when she was going to graduate high school, Tomey was riding races at bush tracks for her father, but since women weren’t allowed to ride in pari-mutuel races, she was coming up with other plans for her future. “I had a full ride scholarship to college,” she explained.  “And my mother and I had discussed that I was going to go to the Peace Corps. We already had my spot picked out and everything.” Fortunately for Swan and for the racing industry, the rules allowing women to ride in races were changed just in time, and she left for California immediately to start riding races. “I didn’t even go to get my diploma, they mailed it to me!” she said chuckling. Tomey was the first female jockey to win a race at several Quarter Horse tracks in California.

Tomey rode several graded stakes -winning horses of both breeds, although she was best known for her success on Quarter Horses. “Joanna Kate was the best horse I ever rode,” she recalled, “I was the only one that ever rode her and she made over 500 thousand. She was an amazing animal.” Given her high levels of achievement in the Quarter Horse world, Swan said that reporters are often surprised to hear that her favorite horse to ride was a Thoroughbred. “His name was Royal News. He won about five stakes races in a row,” said Swan. “The first one that he was in, I went and bought a bottle of Dom Perignon, and my husband said ‘What’d you buy that for?! That’s expensive!’, and I said ‘We’re not going to drink it unless he wins,’” she recalled. Of course, Royal News won, so the bottle of Dom Perignon became a tradition before each of his races. “My husband is superstitious, so after he won that one he’d always say, ‘Have you got that bottle of Dom Perignon?’ before the next stakes race,” she said with a smile.

Swan retired from riding in 2005, forced from the saddle by two knee replacements which at the time prohibited riders from returning to racing due to liability reasons. She decided that joining her husband Patrick and training racehorses was the next best thing. “I miss riding races every day. For the riders that truly love it, it’s a hard thing to give up,” Swan lamented, “But this [training] is the best I can do to get close to it.” On race day, if Patrick is in town to saddle their runners, and sometimes even if he isn’t, you will find Tomey waiting patiently on the pony to take her own horses to the starting gate before the race. “On days that Patrick’s not here, I have to saddle, and it’s a trick to saddle and get to the horse in time,” she laughed.

The Swans break all of their own young horses on their 160 acre ranch in Jones, Oklahoma, just down the road from Remington Park, careful to make sure their horses learn their lessons well, and enjoy the process. “I love to see the progression of the horses. To watch that transition of the horses learning every step, it’s amazing,” Tomey said, adding, “We want them to love going up to the racetrack. Really great horses love their job. And that’s one of the things we try and do the most – teach them, and let them enjoy it.”

The Swans have one young filly in particular that has grown up, learned and thrived under their watchful gaze. Olivias Jett, named for Patrick’s brother’s grandkids Olivia and Jett, was the fastest qualifier for the Mystic Lake Northlands Futurity which will be run on July 2nd. Tomey thinks it’s possible that Olivias Jett could be their best horse yet. “She hasn’t been asked yet to really give it her all,” she pointed out. Olivias Jett has run three times, and has only lost once – her first race, a learning experience, where she broke slow and came flying late. Olivias Jett’s greatness may be a question waiting to be answered, but she clearly loves her job thanks to the training she’s received along the way.

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