|Back in a Tiff|
|News - Misc|
|Monday, July 15, 2013|
Back in a Tiff
Jockey Tiff Mosset returns to her home state after a whirlwind year
by Ryan Roshau
Amidst the color and blur of last summer’s North Dakota Horse Park meet, one special moment stood out. It wasn’t a track record being broken or the thrill of watching a stakes race crown a champion, it was the pure joy of a jockey winning a race for the first time. Compound that with the fact that she’s a female jockey…from North Dakota.
Since that sunny and dusty July afternoon, Linton, ND native Tiffany Mosset has given new meaning to riding like a girl. The 23 year-old’s journey has taken her from Fargo to New Orleans to Louisville to Saratoga Springs But this week she has come full circle. She’s back in Fargo riding at the Horse Park.
“I always had horses growing up,” Mosset says, fresh from a trip around the track at Saratoga earlier this week. “I liked horses and I liked speed.” Those leisurely gallops of her youth soon turned more serious with family members in the racing business. “My cousin Jodi (Buchholz) and her husband Rick got me started when I was 18,” Mosset recalls. “They owned a few racehorses and one day I got up on one at their place in Horace and we went around the pasture. Before long I was working their horses on the track.” That first leg up as an exercise rider came five years ago and it only made Mosset hungry for the real thing.
“Riding in a race was a dream. I was so happy, so excited,” Mosset remembers as she rode in her first race at last year’s Horse Park meet. She came close to winning after giving her horses some good rides and then the dream went to nirvana on July 20th. “I took the rail down the stretch in a race and I wasn’t afraid to go on the inside. It was a thrill going through that hole and all you see is daylight ahead of you,” Mosset recalls as she described that first winning move aboard Striker’s Chance. “How amazing it was to win like that, I had reached my dream.”
The dream was realized but there was an ironic twist to that first victory; finishing behind in second was the Buchholz’ home-bred Buckorama. “I knew they were in the race but when I won I forgot about everything else,” Mosset laughed. “I just sort of said to Rick, I guess you should put me up on your horse.”
The victory would be the only one in ten starts at the Horse Park and from there Mosset showed no signs of slowing down. A brief stint as an exercise rider at Remington Park in Oklahoma was followed by a trip to the prestigious Fairgrounds Racetrack in New Orleans. After freelancing in that trade she was eventually hired into the Steve Asmussen stable, a renowned outfit that has produced multiple champions including luminaries Curlin and Rachel Alexandra. “It was a beautiful old track and great to work for them over the winter,” Mosset said. “It drove my brother crazy that I was in the same city as the Super Bowl!” But the big time was about to get bigger as March turned to April. “I was laid off but having that Asmussen name associated with me was good.” It was from there that the journeywoman jock meandered north to Louisville – to Churchill Downs where they run the Kentucky Derby. “I was trying to pick up work and one day someone told me to talk to Wayne Lukas,” Mosset casually recounts. “My friend said, ‘you are small and he likes girls as exercise riders so you never know.’”
Lukas was in the process of moving his stable from Arkansas to Kentucky for the spring and for a week Mosset waited for a sign of this training titan – revered in the sport as a four-time Kentucky Derby winner but that fact was lost on Mosset who saw him as just another everyday guy with horses. That relaxed philosophy allowed her to walk up to the 77 year-old sage of the saddle and say that she was a rider looking for work, fresh off of her experience with the Asmussen barn. He laughed and said, “Well I’ll be treating you much better than that, see you in the morning.” Mosset wasn’t sure if she was hired or not but she knew one thing; she would show up in the morning.
From the next morning on, Mosset was working Lukas’ horses, including the Preakness-bound Titletown Five and some of his very best two year-olds, destined for the nation’s biggest races next year. Her hard work and horsemanship kept her on the staff but even she couldn’t imagine what would happen next.
“Wayne has this rule that he will not let someone else outside his staff pony his horses to the starting gate and the other part of the rule is you have to use Wayne’s horse,” Mosset said. “If we are working for him we get first call so I asked one of his assistants if I could pony one of his two horses for the Kentucky Derby and she said yes.”
So there she was, five years removed from that first gallop around her cousin’s horse pasture, parading a horse to the post in the Kentucky Derby. “My first thought when they played ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ is how awesome it would be to ride in this race someday,” Mosset continued. “And you could feel the vibrations from the stands and I said ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ all these people who come to watch this, you don’t realize how big the Derby is until you get there.”
To make the day even sweeter, Mosset’s parents, sister, and brother were all in attendance watching her in the moment. “When I was little I said ‘I want a pony in the Derby’ and now there I was. It made me feel important to be a part of it to help them get ready for the biggest race in their life.”
The horse Mosset ponied to the starting gate, Will Take Charge, didn’t have his best result in his biggest race but he would go on to run in all three Triple Crown races. When another Lukas horse, Oxbow, won the Preakness Stakes there was a celebration in the barn for the team effort. “Watching that race was just unreal because I see that horse every day in his barn and now he is, the talk of the racing world.”
And Mosset hopes there is something to be said about those juveniles she works for the Lukas Stable every day. Because of her small frame, she handles the younger stars of tomorrow. “I would say there are about five that can have a say later this year,” Mosset says. “Some of them are really fast and this one I get aboard, Tall Boy, he has potential as he’s starting to get it as a racehorse. He will do better once the races get longer.” He, Mosset, and many others in the Lukas barn have moved from Churchill to the summer meet at Saratoga—the Fenway Park of racetracks, steeped in 150 years of racing tradition. “To get this far in my life, it’s just really something,” Mosset reflects. “When I say I’m from North Dakota people say, ‘how in the heck did you get here?”
And for this weekend, “here” will be “home” as she returns to North Dakota for a weekend break to see family and to ride races as a jockey—something she loves and misses. “It’s an entirely different environment, it will be more relaxed and I want to have fun with family and ride a few.”
In North Dakota, where family and fun often intermingle, there’s hope to write another chapter to the Mosset memoirs. Jodi and Rick Buchholz, who helped Tiffany get her start, have an entrant named Tuff Grit in one of the biggest races of the weekend - Saturday’s $10,000 North Dakota Futurity. This time, they’ll be giving Tiff the call – Tuff, meet Tiff if you will. “That’s when it will turn serious if I can ride for them and win it,” Mosset said. “A race is one thing but a stake? Wow, winning it for family would mean so much more.”
*Photos Courtesy Mary Meek / Churchill Downs