Jockey Debbie Downing: Battling it out with Jill Jellison at Rockingham Park

Lots of things to love about this story. The bravery and toughness of this jockey, one of the pioneers of female jockeys at the time; the jockey she battled down the stretch against, the late Jockey Jill Jellison; and the horse himself.

Rich One, a direct male descendant of Man o’ War, powerful looking horse for sure.


I am embarrassed that I was so busy with the whip on this night at Rockingham Park. But you see, the blinkers had fallen off this horse in the gate… and in the mornings, he liked to take a right-hand turn and take me skimming along the outside rail!

That’s jockey Jill Jellison finishing second!  She would claim foul against me because the trainer, Paul McGraw, said my horse’s blinkers coming off distracted his horse.  Claim of foul disallowed.

When this horse was a two-year-old, my husband was out of town for a race.   In the starting gate, Rich One threw himself down and tossed me over his head and I was underneath his front legs as he was stepping on my chest.  Later, I had his prints on my sternum.  The marvelous gate crew got me out from under him by pulling me up by my legs, put me back on the horse and he finished fourth.

I can remember being devastated when my husband called from out of town and I told him the story, and the first question out of his mouth was,

“Is Rich One okay?” 







She tried to win on every horse,” Raymond (trainer) recalled of Ms. Jellison, who at the age of 51, lost a lengthy battle to breast cancer. “Every horse she got off of she tried to help. We did very good together. Losing her was like losing a superior tool.  She’d come off the horse and tell me what was wrong.  “She was tough.  She was kind.  And she loved her animals,” Raymond said.

The toughness came out once at Rockingham Park when a male jockey who didn’t like the idea of competing with female riders tried “to drop her a race,” Raymond recalled. “She came back to the paddock area and waited for him. She had the saddle in her left arm and gave that guy a beating, right there. They both got fined for it.”

Born in Woonsocket, R.I., on Nov. 22, 1963, Jill Jellison compiled a career record of 1,913 wins, 1,931 seconds and 2,010 thirds from 15,242 career mounts. Horses she rode earned $13,592,449. She is the sixth winningest female jockey in history.

In her final meet at Suffolk Downs in the fall of 2013, Ms. Jellison finished seventh in the rider standings behind Piermarini with 35 wins from 147 mounts, a 24 percent success rate.  There is a race named in her honor at Suffolk Downs.


~Jill Jellison~



2 thoughts on “Jockey Debbie Downing: Battling it out with Jill Jellison at Rockingham Park

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