As long as she can remember, Jane Proctor has loved horses.
She loves to look at horses. She loves hanging around them. Most of all, she loves to ride them. And, for most of her life, she has.
As Jane Driggers, she blossomed into the West’s first persistently successful female jockey. By the time she finished, she had steered almost 500 thoroughbreds, quarter horses, Appaloosas and Arabians into a winner’s circle that might have been near you.
She enjoyed two fine seasons at this city’s Playfair Race Course. She was the first to win a stakes race at three tracks. The Spokane Sports Writers and Broadcasters honored her, again and again. Bay Meadows put her picture on a billboard. For several years, Portland Meadows ran the Jane Driggers Debutante Stakes.
“That was a great time of my life,” Proctor said in a recent telephone interview. “I really like to ride. Riding is one of the most natural things I can do.”
These days, the race-riding pioneer is surrounded by horses. She married into a prominent racing family, and her husband manages one of America’s showplace breeding farms. Her life is full. A girl can’t ever have too many horses.
Has it really been more than 40 years since female jockeys were a curiosity?
On Jan. 15, 1969, Barbara Jo Rubin secured a mount at Tropical Park in Florida. But she was replaced after the male riders went on strike. Diane Crump made it to the post at Hialeah on Feb. 7. Then, on Feb. 22, at Charles Town, W. Va., Rubin became the first modern-day woman jockey to ride a winner. Violet “Pinkie” Smith broke the ice in this region by finishing sixth at Portland Meadows on Saturday, April 19. The next day, she became the fifth woman in the country to win a race when Sandy Way carried her to victory at Yakima Meadows.
That year, Smith also became the first female to ride and win during the Seattle and Spokane seasons. At Playfair, the redhead made her debut aboard Vudda in a maiden race on Aug. 22. She finished second. That might still be big news. But the winner, Turbulator, turned out to be the greatest race horse in Spokane history. In 1970, Smith won 17 races at Playfair and finished 11th in the standings.
Smith, a trainer’s daughter who had grown up at the races, rode 18 years, mostly in the East. By comparison, Jane Driggers was a wide-eyed innocent when she showed up at Portland Meadows in the spring of 1972. The demure, 16-year-old high-school sophomore from nearby Canby, Ore., knew little about life at the track. Modesty masked her determination.
Her parents had been sweethearts at Linfield College, where Charley Driggers, 6-foot-2, played football and basketball. May Hanada, a foot shorter, was a Japanese-American. Charley and May raised two athletic sons and a petite daughter, who longed to ride.
The daughter owned her first horse at 8, graduated to the show ring and, in 1970, jumped at the chance, when a thoroughbred trainer, wintering at the nearby Clackamas County Fairgrounds, offered her $1 a head to gallop his horses. The next year, she raced for the first time, competing at a couple of Central Oregon’s unrecognized county fairs meets. The next spring, she went to Portland Meadows.
“I was so young and so naïve,” she recalled. “I didn’t know anybody. My mom said ‘Walk up and down the shedrows and introduce yourself and ask if they need any help.’ I just wanted to ride races, so I tried to be nice to everybody.”
Driggers had her first mount, Hi Sheri, on Saturday, June 10, 1972. Hi Sheri made her the track’s first female winner, prevailing in a three-horse photo finish.
That summer, Driggers became Playfair’s fourth female jockey. But she stayed only a few days, broke her right hand at Salem and began her junior year at Canby High School as the cheerleader in the cast.
When she began to ride regularly in 1973, she topped Smith’s accomplishments in fewer than 18 months. She became Oregon’s first stakes-winning female jockey by riding Martin’s Lemon to a track-record victory in the Portland Meadows Marathon. On July 4, she became the third to win a race at Playfair. Four wins in the meet’s first four days encouraged SWABs to elect her High School Athlete of the Week. And after she won 16 times at Playfair and Salem in a 10-day period, SWABS honored her again.
By meet’s end, Driggers was the West’s leading female jockey and the top apprentice of either sex. SWABS named her Inland Northwest Woman Athlete of the Year. The trophy sits on her desk in Florida.
Two other Oregon women, Cindy Kirby and Jean Irwin, began to win races that fall. Both later rode here. But Driggers remained in the spotlight by winning three 1974 stakes in Portland. That summer and fall at Playfair, as a journeyman and a high-school graduate, she rode 34 winners, good for ninth place in the standings. And she recorded the track’s first stakes victory for a female jockey when Matinee Girl won the Lilac City Handicap.
Only four other women – Rae Schubert, Barbara Thompson, Brenda Hanna and Tammy Bradley – made a strong showing in the jockey standings in Playfair’s final quarter-century of operation.
Driggers starred at Portland Meadows in 1975. One of her regular mounts, Shaynaman, was named Horse of the Meeting. That summer, she became the first female stakes-winner during the Seattle season as Grey Papa won the Memorial Day Handicap at Longacres.
Traditionally, stakes-winning jockeys buy beer for their rivals. However, at 19, Driggers decided not to challenge the state liquor laws. So she commissioned her agent to buy the beer and skipped out before it was delivered. The story made the national wires.
By 1977, Driggers was a regular at Golden Gate Fields, Bay Meadows and on the Northern California fair circuit. A billboard and bus-sign campaign once announced “Jane Driggers wants you at Bay Meadows.” She met her future husband, Harry “Hap” Proctor, there. She retired and became a full-time exercise rider in April 1983.
The money had been good. But in California, with an oversupply of jockeys, she had found trainers slow to accept women riders. And, as often is the case, weight had been a concern.
“I would have ridden a lot longer if I didn’t have to think about weight,” she said. “My natural weight is 118 pounds. I had to weigh 110. It’s not hard to get there. But if you’re only riding three or four races a week, it’s hard to stay there.”
Jane Driggers married Hap Proctor in 1984. They have two grown sons.
Her husband’s father, Willard Proctor, was a legendary trainer who had saddled 58 stakes-winners. For years, he conditioned horses for famed Glen Hill Farm. Tom Proctor, Hap’s brother, succeeded him. When Tom became the farm manager, Hap took over at the track. Then, in 1991, the Proctor boys traded jobs.
The farm, spanning 335 acres near Ocala, Fla., belongs to Leonard H. Lavin. Lavin, 92, a former University of Washington student, founded personal care products giant Alberto-Culver. Glen Hill houses more than 100 horses, ranging from broodmares to stable ponies. There is a five-furlong training track. Jane galloped horses there during the early years of her marriage.
Nowadays, she plays a lot of tennis. She and Hap spend their summers with Tom and the racing stable at Del Mar.
“I’ve always considered myself a racetrack junkie,” she admitted.
“But the farm was great for raising kids. It’s a great life, although I have never worked in the barns with the mares and the babies. I was always in the training barn. That’s where you ride them.”