Growing up around horses, Cheryl Charlton believed that having a career as a professional jockey was something beyond her reach - a dream that was impossible for her to achieve. "I remember going to the racetrack when I was 15 and thinking that I wanted to be just like Julie Krone," said Charlton, whose equine experience was limited to pleasure and Western riding. "At the time I never thought that I would ever even have the opportunity to be jockey," she added.
Charlton, however, did not give up on her dream. "I started asking questions and looking around for information on riding racehorses. I quickly found out that while becoming a professional jockey was indeed difficult, finding people that would help you get started was actually not that hard. I was lucky to meet Keith Craigmyle and his wife, Jennifer. They taught me everything that I know about riding."
Only five years after dreaming of winning, Charlton had the joy of experiencing the real thing. Piloting William Canton's Blended Toss for trainer Keith Craigmyle in the first race at Los Alamitos on April 18, Charlton led from start to finish to earn her first trip to the winner's circle. "It felt awesome," said the 20-year-old pilot. "I was never really nervous during the race because Keith gave me good instructions on what to do and what to expect."
Charlton's road to victory has been the result of hard work. "I've been working for (Thoroughbred) trainer Dan Hendricks galloping horses for three years now, but I just started riding because I didn't feel that I was ready until now. I felt that I needed more experience, plus I've always been the type that if I have a question, I'll ask someone. I'm not afraid to ask because I want to do things right. That's why I waited."
Craigmyle, last year's leading Thoroughbred trainer at Los Alamitos and a former jockey himself, never doubted that Charlton's time on the saddle would soon arrive. "She came up to me and said 'I want to be a jockey' but at the time she didn't know a thing," said Craigmyle, who rode for three years in the New York circuit before weight issues cut his career short. "The thing about Cheryl is that she has zero fear. She has natural balance on a horse like no other and she can leave the gate better than any rider that I've ever worked with. She's only 109 pounds so that's also a great thing for her."
With a win now under her belt, Cheryl can now continue dreaming of reaching some of the accomplishments of the great Julie Krone. "I've met her a few times," Charlton explained. "I got her autograph once when I was 16. As she was signing for me, I remember thinking, 'that's who I want to be like. I'd like to be just like her."