When Argentina’s Marina Lezcano first took to the turf as a professional jocketta in 1976, the railbirds greeted her with cries of “Get back in the kitchen” or “Go wash the dishes.” These days, when the 4’11”, 99-lb. Marina guides a mount into the gate, she’s more likely to hear “Arriba, muñeca!”—”Come on, doll.”
Marina at 22 is the kind of jockey all racing fans like best: a winner. Last year she rode a chestnut colt named Telescopico to victory in the four classics that are Argentina’s equivalent of the American Triple Crown, becoming the second jockey (and first woman) to win all four in one year. No other woman jockey in the world has ever won even one race of such stature. “Just think,” laughs Telescopico’s trainer, Juan Bianchi, “some owners didn’t want Marina to ride for them!”
Lezcano’s father, Jorge Mario, is a part-Indian textbook salesman, and her half-Irish mother, Dora, is an English teacher. Marina and an older brother were raised in a tidy Buenos Aires suburb—until Marina’s menagerie (54 cats plus half a dozen dogs and assorted squirrels and tortoises) forced the family to move to a country villa in San Vicente, 25 miles south.
When she was 10 Marina cajoled her father into buying Tanita, her first horse. (Now 13, the old mare still happily munches grass at San Vicente.) “At first I just wanted to ride around,” says Marina, “then I got enthusiastic about the cuadreras [local bareback races].” Marina’s father recalls giving his daughter entrance fees for the races. “It was wrong,” he admits. “On the other hand, she usually won and it was very profitable.”
By 14 Marina was determined to be a jockey, but needed admittance to an apprentice school. After one sexist rejection, Marina cited pioneering Brazilian jocketta Suzanna Davis and won over officials at the Jockey Club of Buenos Aires. She quit high school for riding school, and at 17, only a month after graduation, won her first race for jockettas. By 1976, just one year after women riders were allowed to compete with men, she won the 60 races necessary to rise above apprentice status.
While she was still at school Marina was hired by trainer Bianchi to work out his 100 horses. Today she is Bianchi’s main rider, and she needs the work. Unlike her North American colleague, Steve Cauthen, who has already earned more than $1 million in three years, Lezcano took home only about $30,000 last year. While Argentine jockeys receive 13 percent of prize money, compared to 10 for U.S. jockeys, purses in the pampas are considerably punier.
Marina rises at 4 a.m. weekdays when her three alarm clocks—one windup, one electric and one battery-powered—sound off in the small apartment she shares with her father. “I do everything except make the beds,” she says, although her mother arrives twice a week to put things in order. Cooking? “Marina is full of good intentions,” says her father, “but she is also the best customer of the delicatessen around the corner.” After breakfast she jumps into her battered two-year-old Fiat and barrels to San Isidro racetrack. (“Who cares about stoplights when the streets are empty?”) By 6 a.m. she’s astride the first of some 20 to 30 horses she works with each morning.
Around noon she goes home for lunch—steak tartare or anything with chicken, and sweets for dessert. She skips siesta. “I have to go to bed at 9 p.m. anyway, so it hardly seems worthwhile.” Instead, she practices her guitar, or visits her dressmaker, since clothes, a recent passion, don’t come ready-made in Argentina in size 3. On Wednesday, her day off, she visits her mother and brother at San Vicente. Saturday and Sunday are race days.
Shy and quiet, Marina has been to a disco only once—with her brother. Dating is all but out of the question for now, but Marina does want marriage. “Once married, I want to have a baby, and I certainly will not go on racing then,” she says. “Who would take care of my baby if something happened to me?” She’s still looking for the ideal husband: “A rancher wouldn’t be bad, right? But jokes apart, the only important thing is that he loves me. And, oh yes,” she adds, “he has to like animals.”