“That’s what I wanted to do from a very young age — I knew that I wanted to ride racehorses.”
Born and raised in Red Lake, ON, a town northwest of Thunder Bay, the young jockey is quick to admit that she’s not from a ‘horsey’ family or environment, so to speak.
“We had a dog and that was pretty much it as far as animals go,” said Twomey who at the tender age of six found herself learning to ride at a horse camp.
The future jockey-to-be spent a good portion of her childhood in Red Lake before moving to Thunder Bay to finish high school. Her preliminary step into the racing world would come via some hands on training at one of Canada’s highly-regarded horsemanship training programs.
“I went out west to Alberta and they’ve got Olds College out there. That’s kind of how I got into horse racing and how I got my foot in the door. From there it was a lot of hard work,” said Twomey who completed the groom program in 2013 and then the exercise rider program the following year.
From Olds she went to Edmonton where she galloped at Northlands Park for the next two racing seasons. During the winters she began galloping horses at Santa Anita racetrack in California.
At the end of 2016, Twomey and her husband, Jorge Espitia, made the decision to move their tack to Toronto. A fellow jockey, Espitia has ridden throughout the U.S. and Canada over the last 15 years. Early on a morning, the couple can be seen walking the barns on Woodbine’s backstretch working together as each set of horses goes out to train.
Twomey acknowledges that Espitia has played a vital role in her career thus far. “That’s one person that I can definitely say I would not be here if it was not for him.”
Establishing connections and galloping horses within the Ontario circuit over the last couple of years,Twomey received her apprentice jockey licence in late September.
The apprentice licence is issued by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) and certifies an individual to be an active apprentice for up to a three-year period. Under the Canadian thoroughbred rules of racing once an apprentice wins 45 races then a rider can apply for their jockey licence, which again must be approved by the AGCO stewards.
Not long after receiving her licence Twomey booked her first mount in early October. She vividly recounts the anticipation leading up to that race.
“Well, I really just wanted to get it done. I just wanted to do it. As soon as entries came out and I saw myself in the entries I just wanted to fast-forward to that moment right before the gates open. I wanted to be right there,” said Twomey who finished a solid fourth aboard Soul n’ Spirit, a 6-year-old chestnut gelding trained by John Coryat.
On Nov. 11, Twomey won her first race aboard Show Me the Prize — trained by Ross Armata — at Woodbine Racetrack.
The 24-year-old apprentice is grateful for the continued support from the racing community, with several names at the top of the list.
“Amanda Gregory— she’s a trainer out West. Max Corrales out in California. Obviously my husband. Emma-Jayne Wilson, her agent Mike Luider, my agent Ron Burke and my parents. They have been a huge support for me.”
Like any competitive sport, Twomey continues to work on her craft, riding different horses for various owners and trainers. All the while knowing that a team of players have undoubtedly shaped her journey leading up to her first race.
“I’ve had a lot of help by a lot people getting to that point, so it was really special. Thinking back on it now, I just remember all the people who gave me a chance on their horses, who helped me out, who told me when I was learning to gallop racehorses — how to hold the lines, or what to do when a horse does this, or how to handle a difficult horse.”
Horse racing is a physically demanding sport, one that is filled with everyday unknowns, such as spills and falls, which, in turn, could be career ending. Twomey is very aware of the precarious nature of her profession and remains extremely thankful to her family who’ve been on team Twomey since day one.
“My mom knows what’s up. It’s a dangerous sport and she understands. My dad, too. But both of them, they’ve just been so supportive of this dream. My dad remembers when I was a little kid talking about ‘I want to ride racehorses, I want to be a jockey’ and the whole time maybe he was a little hesitant because it is a little bit dangerous and you have to be half crazy to do this, but he’s always been very supportive and so happy — my whole family is.”
This winter, she and Espitia plan on following the snowbirds to Florida before returning to Woodbine next spring.
Asked why she does what she does, there’s no hesitation, just a very candid and heartfelt response. “It’s the horses. Unless you’re a rider it’s really hard to explain that connection that you have with your horse. It’s really special. I mean there’s also the adrenaline part of it because again you are going 40 to 60 km/h on a horse balancing on an inch of steel. It’s the adrenaline part, but really, it’s the horses.”