Gage Holmes winning the $100,000 Centennial Distaff Turf Mile on Henrietta Topham at Ellis Park
Gage Holmes is getting a rare experience for a jockey who just started her race-riding career in late January. The 26-year-old Penn State graduate is riding Cambus-Kenneth Farm’s Henrietta Topham in the Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf, whose $750,000 purse will increase to $1 million with the presence of Grade 1 winner Dalika in the field under incentives offered by Kentucky Downs.
Having won 34 races overall, Holmes generally gets a seven-pound apprentice allowance to encourage trainers to use an inexperienced rider. But that allowance does not apply to stakes races. Thus, the 4-year-old Henrietta Topham will carry the 124 pounds dictated by the race conditions, two pounds fewer than race favorites Dalika and 2021 Ladies Turf winner Princess Grace.
But Henrietta Topham is 3 for 3 with Holmes after starting her career 0 for 3 with veteran riders last fall. The victories include Ellis Park’s $100,000 Centennial Distaff Turf Mile by a half-length over multiple stakes-winner Turnerloose. It was the first stakes win for Holmes, Cambus-Kenneth Farm owner Michael Burns and trainer Geoff Mulcahy, whose majority business is getting horses ready for other trainers.
“They’re awesome, and they continue to give me a chance,” Holmes said. “I’m just so blessed and very thankful to everybody involved — my agent (Jimmy McNerney), the owners, trainers who have kept me on for this incredible ride. It’s just a great experience.”
After the Ellis victory, Mulcahy admitted he’d thought about switching to a more experienced jockey but decided, “If it’s not the right time to go for a stakes when you’re coming off two wins, when is? And Gage was a part of those two wins.”
Now it’s three wins.
“She’s just so cool,” Holmes said of Henrietta Topham. “I know they’re going to take her as a broodmare afterwards. But she’s one of those if she didn’t have anywhere to go, I would take her home with me, even if I had to keep her in my closet.”
Holmes grew up in Pennsylvania and groomed horses at Presque Isle during the summers while working on a degree from Penn State in veterinary and biomedical sciences — a combination of pre-med and pre-vet school.
“Just to get to know the racetrack, get to know what it’s about and see if it was the right course for me after I graduated,” she said of a veterinarian career. “When I graduated I went to Ocala to learn how to gallop. From there I got a job in Kentucky and rode for Ian Wilkes for almost two years and I worked for John Ortiz and now we’re here. The ultimate goal was to be a jockey.”
Holmes believes she will use her college degree some day.
“I’m doing this while I can and while I’m able,” she said. “I absolutely love it. That’s just there for when I decide to retire.”