Woodbine jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson has two tiny reasons for falling behind in her off-season workouts.
They’re named Grace and Avery.
Wilson and her wife Laura Trotter, an equine chiropractor, became first-time parents last month when Trotter delivered their twin daughters. Predictably, life has become much more hectic for the couple as Wilson traditionally would have started her off-season preparation in January.
“I’m about a month behind but that’s not to say I won’t be ready for the season,” Wilson said. “I just know I’m working out more now to make up for lost time.
“Life has changed quite a bit but what’s been nice is it’s the off-season and we’ve had the luxury of the first five weeks for them to be my sole focus.”
Wilson’s focus and determination have made her one of Canada’s top riders. A Sovereign and Eclipse Award winner as Canada’s and North America’s top apprentice, the 35-year-old jockey from Brampton, Ont., has more victories (1,374) than any Canadian female jockey and in ’07 became the first woman to win the Queen’s Plate.
Wilson also broke barriers at the 2015 Shergar Cup â€” a jockey challenge event at England’s Royal Ascot â€” combining with Sammy Jo Bell and Hayley Turner to become the first female squad to win the crown.
Wilson said parenthood might make her more cautious off the trackâ€” “I’ll drive on the 401 with both in back and I drive differently because they’re there” â€” but added it won’t change how she races in the saddle.
“I think differently now but I don’t believe that will have a profound affect on me as an athlete,” she said. “I think about the hazards of the job because it’s something that as far as I’m concerned jockeys should respect.
“I don’t think having children, having a family, has changed my level of respect. If it did, then you didn’t truly respect those risks before it. I’d never take chances that’d put myself or other jockeys at risk and I’d have that mindset with or without children.”
Travel is also a necessary evil for jockeys, who must head abroad to race or breeze potential mounts. Wilson said while she’s more vigilant about scheduling now, she doesn’t expect her work schedule to be an issue.
“When we travel it’s almost like commuting to work,” she said. “I’ve had days where I’ve ridden in New York and flown out that morning and returned that night.”
For much of her life, being a jockey was Wilson’s top priority and she willingly sacrificed to make it happen. With her career and personal life both on solid ground, the time was right for Wilson to become a parent.
“I wasn’t sure if I ever was going to have children,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to be a jockey and that was the only thing I knew for sure I was going to give 100 per cent focus to.
“When I met Laura and our lives progressed, it became something we wanted to do together . . . at my stage in life, I felt like I was ready.”
However, twins weren’t initially on the radar.
“The day we found out we were having twins, we kind of sat on the couch,” Wilson said with a chuckle. “It was a bit of a shock . . . but very much a pleasant one.
“That was about eight weeks along so we had just under 30 weeks to get prepared.”
Caring for an infant is a huge challenge for any couple, let alone twins.
“As with anyone who knows babies, they don’t sleep through the night but they’re sleeping well,” Wilson said. “Every three, four hours we get a little alert from one that it’s time to be fed and Laura and I tag-team between the two of them to get it sorted as quickly and easy as possible and get back to sleep.”
If only for a little while.
“I’ll get Grace to where she’s relaxed, happy and down and you finally think you’re about to go back to bed,” Wilson said. “Then Avery pipes up and it’s almost like, ‘I’d like some love as well.’
“But it’s all good for sure.”
And part of what’s making parenthood so enjoyable for Wilson.
“The most fun is just spending time with them,” Wilson said. “They’re just five weeks old but you see their personalities starting to come out and to have them start to focus on you and see you is amazing.
“I’m excited about the future that’s ahead for them, the opportunities they’ll have and what I hope we can give them. I can’t wait to show them so much of everything from what I’ve experienced in my life and see what they can experience in theirs.”
Wilson said she and Trotter will support their daughters in whatever endeavours they choose, though Wilson wouldn’t mind if they followed in her footsteps on the softball diamond and racetrack.
“It would be along the same lines of the message my mom and dad gave me,” Wilson said. “One of the reasons I feel like I was as successful as I’ve been is having that support and encouragement from my parents.
“When I grew up I played fastpitch for like 15 years and I kind of hope they play because it’s something I know and can do with them. Not that I would ever force them one way or the other but in terms of interaction in their childhood, being their parent, their mother and mentor, that prospect really excites me.”
Avery is the older of the two by about 12 minutes and Wilson said she can tell her daughters apart because Grace is slightly smaller. However, the new parents have devised a simple but effective plan to avoid confusion.
“We put a little nail polish on one toenail just to be sure,” Wilson chuckled. “We’ve been accurate so far, we’ve not mixed them up and I don’t think we will.
“Grace is more relaxed, more easier going. That being said, when she gets upset she gets more upset whereas Avery has a tendency to be a little fussier but settles down.”
Wilson has resumed riding at Woodbine and assures she’ll be ready for the start of the thoroughbred season April 15.
“I’m a competitor, I always want to do better than the previous year,” she said. “If these two little ones mean anything in terms of a little bit of good luck and good fortune, then maybe it’s going to be double than what’s expected.”
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press