On September 14, 2001, Emma-Jayne Wilson wrote a note to herself.
She promised that she would make it as a jockey no matter what it took for her to succeed.
Six years later, on the night before her winning ride aboard Mike Fox in the Queen’s Plate and in only her third year of race-riding, Emma-Jayne found that piece of paper lodged in the pages of a book about women in racing.
“I remember writing it, so I read it again that night for inspiration,” she said.
Inspiration is just one word to describe what Emma-Jayne has given to horseracing fans, young and old, everywhere, especially at Woodbine racetrack in Rexdale, Ontario where she began her riding career.
Intensely competitive, determined and dedicated is her mantra. She’s also a natural lightweight and an accomplished horseperson.
Those qualities have launched her to the top of the jockey ranks in North America and made her a natural fit in million-dollar races and big events all over the world.
Through the end of 2007, Emma-Jayne has won an Eclipse Award for North America’s top apprentice rider, two Sovereign Awards for outstanding apprentice in Canada, won a riding title at Woodbine, ridden in Hong Kong and at the Royal Ascot meeting in England and been inducted into a Hall of Fame.
And when you talk to her, you know she’s just getting started.
Born in Brampton, Ontario on September 1, 1981 to Jim and Lynne Wilson, Emma-Jayne was riding horses at the age of nine. She tackled many disciplines on horseback from western riding to show jumping.
She studied equine management at the University of Guelph and got a strong taste of the business side of horses, marketing and management, plus a feel for veterinary care of the thoroughbred.
A meeting with legendary jockey Sandy Hawley and some test spins on horseback at Woodbine and Emma-Jayne was ready to pursue a career as a jockey.
Emma-Jayne galloped racehorses for two years and caught the eye of top jockey agent Mike Luider while working for trainer Cliff Hopmans Jr.
A student of the racing game, extremely meticulous and an advocate for focus and hard work, Mike was drawn to Emma-Jayne’s quick development on horseback – not only physically but mentally.
“She’s always prepared because of her hard work,” said Mike. “She’ll do the extra things - watch tapes, take notes. The one thing I remember from out first chat was her competitive nature. When you weight 102, 103 pounds, tells you they played rugby in school, you know that are competitive.”
If anyone would have wondered about Emma-Jayne’s future as a jockey, they would not have days after her first ride.
Emma-Jayne rode in her first race on August 27, 2004 at Woodbine racetrack. She won her first race the very next day about Ali Olah in just her second mount.
Her first full season as an apprentice jockey was 2005 and it was a whirlwind of wins and purses for Emma-Jayne.
She became an instant hit, riding hundreds of horses each month and flaunting her racing smarts and finishing strength.
Emma-Jayne won 175 races at Woodbine and over $7.4 million in purses and became just the third apprentice rider to win the riding title after Sandy Hawley and Mickey Walls.
She won her first stakes race, the Grade 2 Bell Canadian Stakes, with Bill Sorokolit’s Classic Stamp, a filly she had bonded with when she was still galloping horses.
From that first full season of riding, Emma-Jayne was a unanimous choice for Outstanding Canadian apprentice rider of the year and then in California the following winter, she was named Eclipse Award champion.
Emma-Jayne had her apprentice bug for two-thirds of the 2006 campaign and cleaned up again.
Her 144 wins once again topped the Woodbine riding standings, 20 more than her nearest competitor and she won her second Sovereign for top apprentice and was a finalist for outstanding jockey.
That summer, Emma-Jayne was invited to compete in the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup, a jockey challenge, at Ascot in England.
At year’s end she was inducted into the Brampton Sports Hall of Fame despite the Hall’s constitution states that an inductee has to be retired for three years, “except by outstanding pre-eminence and skill and upon request of the Selection Committee”.
In 2007, after riding at Fair Grounds racetrack in New Orleans during the winter months with a great deal of success, Emma-Jayne embarked on her first full season as a journeyman rider.
“You don't lose anything (when you become a journeyman), you gain five pounds,” said Emma-Jane. “You gain the stature of being a journeyman. You're not a rookie anymore. You've had the first two years of your riding career to prepare for this."
On June 24, Emma-Jayne Wilson coaxed every ounce of power and energy out of the giant colt Mike Fox, owned by D. Morgan Firestone, and won the Queen’s Plate, the oldest, most continuously run race in North America.
She became the first woman jockey to win the Plate.
Throughout 2007, Emma-Jayne rode less favourites but she could still create wins.
By year’s end, she had won 129 races, good for SECOND-place in the Woodbine jockey’s standings, that despite missing some crucial final cards of racing in December.
Emma-Jayne was invited to the Hong Kong International Jockey’s Championship at Happy Valley racecourse, the first woman to ride in the competition.
She finished second in the Sovereign Award voting for outstanding jockey to five-time Sovereign Award winner Patrick Husbands.
Emma-Jayne knows that being a jockey - who also just so happens to be a woman - is a significant aspect of her career, even if she tends to steer comments and publicity away from that fact. Last year, she was named one of the most influential women in sport by the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS).
Emma-Jayne built her own equiciser horse to practice and film her riding skills and often studies those tapes, plus race films in her spare time.
“I think being a student of this game, to always be learning, is paramount in regards to having on-going success.”
And success, it seems it what about Emma-Jayne Wilson is all about.