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From the S&S archives

Jockey Mary Bacon has winning image

Jockey Mary Bacon at Tokyo's Oi Racetrack in 1978.

BILL FRANQUI / ©S&S

By MIKE GOSE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 11, 1978

TOKYO — Mary Bacon will ride her last race in Japan Saturday at the Oi Racetrack, but after a weeklong stay, there's only one conclusion logically arrived at.

She's a damn good jockey — and one hell of a woman.

By Wednesday she had ridden 12 horses, put three of them across the finish line first, urged one more into a second-place finish it didn't really deserve and picked up more than five million yen ($26,344 plus change) in purses.

She's also added more than a few fans to her following. Wednesday's totals showed gate figures up 30 percent.

"I'd really like to stay here and race," said Ms. Bacon who, at 5-foot-5,. nudges the scales at 100 pounds. "The fans and the jockeys have really been great."

Yeah, she's ridin' high as they say. But she's paid a pretty heavy price for her fame.

It began in 1969 with a bitter court battle to allow women into the world of big time racing. Then there was a kidnapping because, "This guy thought I was showing the boys up on the track."

The divorce came in 1972 from a jockey she loved but couldn't race with because the rules said man and wife could not race for the same club.

And always the catcalls. Bunny jockey — a reference to her once posing for Playboy. Shouts of "go on home and wash the dishes." And the others, filthier, and not always from the grandstands.

Cynical? Yes. Outspoken? Definitely.

"People are basically idiots. They're so narrow-minded," said the 29-year-old brown-eyed platinum blonde. "Changes have to happen. Hell, a few years ago mini-dresses were unheard of. Women weren't even considering careers."

Ms. Bacon has seen her share of changes.

After all, there's a lot of furlongs between the pages of Playboy to becoming the original Charley Girl for their line of cosmetics to getting up at 5 o'clock for morning workouts and riding 11 or 12 races a day.

Racing has left 17 of her bones broken and she said, "I've been on the critical list too many times. I know how short life can be.

"I'm going to do exactly what I want to do. I'm leading a full life and I feel sorry for the man who works from 9 to 5 and then comes homes to read the paper and watch television night after night.

"There's a whole world out there for the taking, but people cop out. They say 'I can't,' or 'I don't have the money.'

"Bull. All they have to do is do it."

While her life is centered around horses, she's just at home attending a Broadway musical in New York City or being the mother of a 9-year-old girl.

It's a hectic life that doesn't allow for the pace to slow down, but that's the way she likes it.

Her biggest race, it seems, is against time.

She's watched as nearly 30 jockeys have been killed or injured, graphic testimony to the perils of her sport.

"I want to race until I'm physically not able to. But it's a dangerous game and I know you can't predict those kinds of things."

She's depending on superb physical conditioning and desire to carry her through this whirlwind lifestyle that finds her leaving Sunday for Los Angeles and a connecting flight to St. Louis, Mo., where she'll race in the evening.

And, only after those races, will she take some time to sleep.

No. Fame doesn't come cheap.