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Interviews

Interview with Jody Culmone Harvey, Daughter of the Late, Great Jockey Joseph Culmone

Interviewed by Tricia Psarreas via Email on February 25, 2008

Jody Culmone Harvey is the daughter of the late, great jockey Joseph Culmone Sr. Well known for his record setting 388 wins in 1950, Joseph Culmone Sr. was more than just a phenomenal jockey. He was also a family man and kind-hearted soul. Now in the words of his daughter, Jody Culmone Harvey, fans can see just how the horse racing industry in all its faults and glory affected the man, his family, and his life in general.

Tricia:             Can you tell me a bit about your father?

Jody:               My Father was born and raised in Delia, Sicily.  He was about 16 years old then he came to the United States.  He arrived at Ellis Island, NY and was put into a quarantine for 2 months as most Italians were when they arrived by boat to the USA.  He was sponsored by a good Italian family who owned and trained horses for racing.  He lived in the barns with the horses and did small jobs until they realized he could ride horses.  He then became a great jockey who in 1950 won the title for outstanding jockey as well as “Sportsman of the year” after he tied Willie Shoemaker for the most wins in 1950.  They won 388 races that year, but the difference between now and then is that they only had 10 races a day and did not race on Sundays, so the jockey’s of today actually have more races in order to get more wins.  They race at night and also on Sundays now.  The other great accomplishment my dad had was that he won in 1965 “The Garden State Stakes” which at the time was the richest race in horse racing – they now have the Breeders’ cup and other large purse races, but back then they didn’t.   

Tricia:             What was it like being the daughter of a famous jockey?

Jody:              You really need to talk to my brother about this as it was very different for me being a girl. My dad was very old fashioned and so I was protected by a lot of what went on as my brother knew everything.  My first memory was at the age of 4 years old. I was the only girl to ever be allowed in the Jock’s room at Laurel Park. I remember they let me do whatever I wanted because of my dad. Our family would get dressed up every Saturday and go to the track.  They treated our family like celebrities all of the time. 

I also remember the Saturday night card games.  All of the “high” rollers would come to our house and they would play poker from Saturday night until Monday morning.  Most of the players owned bars and businesses in the area.   I would serve them coffee and snacks and they would give me money – by the time I was 15 year’s old I had made enough money to buy a used car.  There were a lot of people that I met from show business and other important people but that is another story!!

Tricia:             Did you ever see your father struggle with things like low jockey      weights?

 Jody:              My father was actually tall for a jockey – he was 5 feet 4 inches tall so his weight was always an issue.  I remember that he couldn’t eat dinner with us nor did he eat what we ate.  From Monday night until Saturday night my dad would eat a biscuit for breakfast with coffee, no lunch and then a small piece of steak with salad for dinner. We would have a large Spaghetti dinner on Saturdays because he would have Sunday to lose the weight. 

My dad took prescription diet pills for 11 months in the year and he would take off the month of March to get his system back to normal. It’s funny but 3 of his children during this time were all born in the month of Dec – was it a coincidence???  I don’t think so…. A person’s reproductive system is adversely affected by dieting and I believe that is why 6 of his 7 children were born in Dec or Jan.  My dad’s health was severely effected by the long term dieting – he developed Hypertension and in his late 40’s actually had a stroke.   He would go to the sweat box which was the “old” fashion kind that you only would see his head.  

It is a long story but the pills and dieting would cause him to lose his temper a lot so it was difficult at times to live with him.  It is also not normal to have a grown man with the strength and body built that he had for him to be so light.

 

Tricia:             What do you think about some of the things Shane has fought for like higher jockey weights, the right to wear endorsements, and better insurance policies?

 Jody:              I feel personally that Shane is doing the right thing, but just like my dad, a lot of the jockeys were not born in the US and they don’t realize they can have the same rights as everyone else.  I believe that Jockey’s have always been taken advantage of and this will continue if someone doesn’t fight for them.  I remember 40 years ago my dad and my mom did try and fight for the rights of jockey’s including being part of putting together “The Jockey’s Guild” -- I understand now that it is no longer a benefit for jockeys.  They also fought for insurance for jockey’s but as I said it was a difficult fight and most of the jockey’s didn’t speak English nor did they understand.  My dad spoke English but not very clearly so many people could not understand a lot of the jockey’s back then.   

 

Tricia:             Do you have any stories about horse racing that you would like to share?

Jody:               I have a ton of stories as does my brother. They were good memories and way too long to write down. My dad was a special man and he was generous to everyone. I will share one X-mas story. My dad was driving in N.J. at X-mas time (it was snowing) and he picked up a soldier that was hitchhiking home for the holidays. The soldier didn’t have any money but wanted to go see his wife and small child for X-mas. My dad drove him to our home in Maryland that night – the next day my dad gave him $200 (it was in 1967- so that was a lot of money back then) to take the a train to see his wife and child. My mom packed him a “care-package” for the trip and money to buy presents for his family. My dad was known on the track for always giving the grooms, and other workers money and he never accepted anything in return. My brother ran into an 80 yr. old man this year at the Haskel in N.J., and he told him about my dad giving him giving everyone who needed it, money. Everyone you talk to still has fond memories of my dad.

Tricia:             Do you have any thoughts on low weight limits that you would like to share?                                                                                             

  Jody:             I believe I answered this one.  But to put another spin on this; I have a son who was born a year after my father died.  He is now 9 year’s old.  He is a big boy and in order for him to play football he must loose 10-15 lbs just so he can play youth football every year as they have age/weight restrictions for football in the state of Maryland.  We as parents have been trying to change this but just like in horse racing the battle is uphill and it is sad that my boy from the age of 5 year’s old has had to diet and loose weight just to play football.  This is very unhealthy for young boys in yet it still goes on.  It also happens in Wrestling as my brother was a Maryland State Wrestling Champ and he had to loose 30 lbs to wrestle in 1978.

 

Tricia:             How do you feel about Shane addressing some of these horse racing issues in a book?

  Jody:             I am happy that someone is finally ADDRESSING this issue – it is about time.

 

Tricia:             Is there anything else you would like to add?

  Jody:             Thanks Shane for doing this.  Maybe it can save some Jockey’s lives.  My dad died at the young age of 65 year’s old and he is missing his grandson and that is so sad to me – in a way I blame the constant stress to his “small” body and the health risks associated with severe weight loss for a lot of the health problems he had in his later years.

 

 

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