The Greatest Job in the World! Jockey Frankie Pennington
By Jennifer Starr
He still has the traces of a Texas accent, but this soft-spoken young jockey has established himself as one of the leading riders in Pennsylvania.
With 2652* wins in his stellar career to date, jockey Frankie Pennington is currently 2nd in the jockey standings at Parx, and he’s happy to have made his way here after learning to ride when he was a teen in his hometown of Big Spring, Texas. “When my mom met my stepfather, Rodney Faulkner, who trains horses, he started teaching me to ride by galloping babies and horses around the cotton field,” he remembered. His career path then became very clear to him. “Once my Mom introduced me to the man who would eventually become my stepfather, when he brought me around horses, I knew right away that’s what I wanted.”
Faulkner relocated to train in Ohio, and Frankie followed him. In 2003, he started riding at Thistledown, and a year later, at age 16, moved in with his agent Robert Martel in the Philadelphia area, and started riding at Penn National and at Philadelphia Park (now Parx). Frankie is enthusiastic about racing in Pennsylvania. “I love racing here!” he said. “I’ve been here so long the trainers and owners are like family to me.”
Frankie now lives on a 7 acre farm in Ringoes, New Jersey with his family, and he can thank his love of horses and his career for introducing him to the love of his life. “I met my wife Jennifer when she was a jockey. We started talking a little bit, and things really clicked. We’ve been together ever since.” Married ten years, they have two children, Frankie III and Emily. Any chance of following in Mom and Dad’s footsteps? “My son is more into dirt bikes and quads, but my daughter, she’s the rider in the family. She’s definitely the one who wants to ride all the time,” he laughed. The farm is also home to three dogs and many horses, of which Frankie is unsure of the number. “I’ve lost count of how many horses my wife has.”
Keeping in shape requires a lot of work, but Frankie stays fit breezing the horses every morning. He stays active constantly, and on his time off
rides quads with his son or rides horses with his daughter. Working on the farm also keeps him in shape, and he enjoys getting on his tractor and cutting the grass, or working around their horses. He describes his days in a nutshell. “Wake up horses, go ride horses, and come home to horses.”
Getting ready for race days also requires extensive preparation. “I always study the races and watch the replay on the horses that I’m riding,” he describes, “to see something in the video that the horses like or don’t like. That way I can put them in a great position.”
Years of riding and many wins later, there’s one horse that still remains his favorite. “Miss Blue Tye Dye! She was a filly I rode early on in my career, and I won everywhere with. She would win stakes everywhere. She was just one of those fillies that, no matter where she was, or what kind of race she was in, she was going to give you 100% all the time.”
Frankie is personable and friendly to his fans, always stopping for a quick word and a photo or autograph at Parx. “Fans are what make the sport. If I do good and the fans are happy, then that makes me happy”. He’s also active on social media, but says there are pros and cons with what is posted. “There’s a lot of good with the exposure and sharing on social media, but I think there can be some over-exaggeration at times.”
This season at Parx, he’s especially looking forward to riding some young horses. “I have a lot of nice two-year-olds coming up for John Servis and Butch Reid. It’s always nice to see where those horses are going to lead up to.”
The 34-year old is thankful to be back riding regularly after last year’s shutdown, and counts his blessings daily. “I’m very grateful for the horses. I just love horses! I’m very fortunate that I get to call my work a job. When we came back after the shutdown last year, it was almost like a vacation, getting to ride. I feel like one day you can feel on top of the world, but with that, some days there are lows. But all in all, I have the greatest job in the world!”
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