Barmaid to jockey

Tameka Lawrence's dream of becoming country's first female champion jockey

Career & Education writer

Sunday, October 21, 2018

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FOUR years ago, Tameka “Barbee” Lawrence was serving drinks in a bar in Spanish Town. Today, she is a licensed apprentice jockey on her way to fulfilling her dream of winning a championship.

Lawrence, who attended Ocho Rios High School before finishing her studies at Fair Prospect, got her first ride as a licensed apprentice on Monday last aboard Man In Blue, trained by Paul Hylton. The race was run over three furlongs (600m) where Lawrence's mount, Man In Blue finished in seventh place in the 11-horse field. It wasn't the finish she expected, but it hasn't deterred the 27-year-old.

“It felt really, really good riding, but I felt like I could have done much better. The horse bled during the race and I had to save him rather than ride him out. I felt him early in the race and so I didn't try to add any more injury. I just let him finish the race.

“It wasn't the start I wanted to my career but I have to give thanks for everything, as I made it this far. Thanks to the trainer for giving me my first ride and I thank everyone that is behind me,” she told the Jamaica Observer.

Lawrence was among three females – the others being Abigail Able and Samantha Fletcher — who graduated from the Jamaica Racing Commission Jockeys' Training school last month. There were 21 apprentices in total.

Her love for horses was ignited when, while at the beach on vacation with family members when she was 10, she got the chance to ride one. She said that first positive experience with the animal started a passion that has stuck with her, with thoughts of possibly racing horses weighing heavily on her mind throughout high school.

“I rode a horse for the first time when I was 10 years old. My aunt came from overseas — California to be exact — and she took us (family members) out on a summer vacation. So we went to Hellshire Beach in Portmore and I saw a grey horse, and I asked my aunt for money to go and ride the horse.

“[The moment] I went on the horse and the way how he responded to my touch, I just fell in love with him. We bonded well that day and it was like I was designed for this. Ever since, I just love horses and the thought of riding horses, racehorses, was always on my mind,” Lawrence said.

But it wasn't until she was working as a barmaid that she took it seriously.

“I came to the racetrack for the first time four years ago through a friend by the name of Alphonso Henry. He was always listening to the races on the radio and sometimes watching in on the television set at a bar where I was working at the time. He, along with his friend, encouraged me to take up the sport.

“Every Saturday they were always there in the bar chanting on their horses to win, which was pretty much exciting to me. I told him and his friends there that I really love horses and I rode horses before.

That was when Henry sized her up and told her to go for it.

“He [Henry] said that I have the body and reach plus I am skinny (slim), and so I must go and try it out because I can get lucky and make a living out of it. So the next day I just quit my job at the bar without collecting my pay and went to the racetrack and that was it for me — as I never turned back since,” the Ocho Rios native explained.

While most of her family members are behind her and her dream of becoming a racehorse jockey, Lawrence said that there are a few who still believe she made the wrong decision in life.

“Many of family members are with me on this adventure. On my father's side of the family they are extremely excited and so too on my mother's side, but some of my aunts are saying that I am wasting my time on horse racing. They are saying that I am spending a lot of money and they don't see any result.

“They don't really understand that horse racing is all about time and process. It doesn't just come overnight. Not everyone is 100 per cent accepting of what I am doing, but I chose this path and I have to work hard to achieve my goals, and one of my goals, [was] to become my country's first female jockey,” Lawrence told Career & Education.

Lawrence, Fletcher and Able bring to eight the number of female jockeys in the island. Azel Cowie, Georgina Sergeon — who recorded 59 career wins, Mellisa Ward, Andree Powell and Natalie Berger are the others.

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