Patricia “P.J.” Cooksey is a horse-racing legend in Kentucky and beyond, having won more than 2,100 races as a jockey since her start in 1979. In 1985, she became the first female to ride in the Preakness Stakes, where she finished in sixth place aboard a horse named Tajawa.
In fact, to this day, Cooksey, 61, still holds the second most all-time wins by a female jockey, right behind Julie Krone, who surpassed her in 1988.
In 2001, the Youngstown, Ohio, native was diagnosed with breast cancer, which she battled successfully and managed to get back on the saddle in less than a year. Cooksey ultimately retired in 2004, but she remains a staunch supporter of horse racing in Kentucky and has worked as a horseback riding reporter for WAVE-3 and ESPN.
She works for the Kentucky Racing Commission as assistant director of incentives and development and a horse inspector. And she volunteers and supports several breast cancer organizations, including the Horses and Hope initiative and Susan G. Komen Kentucky.
On Friday, March 8, Cooksey will serve as a guest speaker at “Pink UnTied,” an annual fundraiser for Susan G. Komen Kentucky, at the Omni Louisville Hotel. The goal of the local organization is to cut the number of breast cancer deaths in half by 2026 through research, education, services, transportation and patient navigation.
Cooksey tells Insider she first became involved with Komen Kentucky while serving on the original committee of Horses and Hope and working with both organizations to help increase breast cancer awareness, education, screening and treatment referrals to Kentucky’s horse industry workers and their families, many of whom were uninsured and underserved.
As a survivor herself, she knows how scary it can be to receive the diagnosis, but she also knew she’d give it her all to try to overcome it.
“I’ve always been a fighter, growing up with three older brothers and competing in a male-dominated sport for 25 years,” she says. “There was never a thought in my mind that I wouldn’t beat cancer. I want to be around to help my daughter reach her full potential in any way that I can.”
While Cooksey has been off the saddle for 15 years now, there’s not a day that goes by that she doesn’t recall fond memories of racing — whether it be the horses, the matches or her fellow competitors.
“Each race was a different game with different strategies,” she explains. “There is no greater thrill than being one with your horse and communicating and willing each horse to give you their best to win. Although we competed several times against each other every day, there was still a camaraderie with my fellow riders that made us family. I miss my family!”
And what doesn’t she miss about it?
“The frozen dirt clods and subzero temperatures with winter racing,” she says.
Before Cooksey takes the stage at “Pink UnTied” on Friday (6 p.m., Omni Louisville, tickets still available), we asked her some very important questions …
What was your first concert?
The Eagles, REO Speedwagon, Fleetwood Mac and the Charlie Daniels Band at the Miami River Music Festival in Cincinnati in September of 1975.
What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?
“The Art of Race Riding.”
What job would you be terrible at?
What is your favorite restaurant or bar?
What is something you think everyone should do at least once?
Go horseback/trail riding in the Ozark Mountains or anywhere else.
Where would you direct a newcomer of Louisville to get a feel for the city?
Churchill Downs during the spring meet.
What keeps you here?
It would first be the horses/thoroughbred racing, then the people.