by Victoria M. Howard
Jacquie Ingrassia is like a bottle of fine wine: She gets better as time goes on. Today, Ingrassia remains among one of the best women drivers in harness racing. One of the original Superstar Female drivers of harness racing, unlike most of the others, Ingrassia is still going strong. For over a half century, (58 years to be exact) Ingrassia has held her own against some of the best.
Born in England, Ingrassia began riding horses as a child. Her family lived near a farmer who raced standardbreds as a hobby. Fascinated with the four-legged athletes, Jacquie started exercising them under saddle before progressing to driving in a sulky at the age of 14.
Six decades later, Jacquie is still living her dream and continues to make her way into the winner’s circle.
Ingrassia has won 1,148 races and $6,343,735 in earnings.
“It may be modest by some standards, but I am very happy with the results. I’m living the dream, doing a job I love every day, and getting paid for it.
“When I started racing in the United States, I was a novelty; just a young girl racing against the men. Now I’m an old lady racing against the boys,” she said, laughing.
Like other husband-and-wife teams who work together in the business, Ingrassia’s husband, Frank, also works with her. Frank still gets in the bike and together they train 10 trotters of which seven they own or co-own. And God bless this man for he is almost 86 years old.
They train horses for some prominent people in the business.
“We are lucky to have great owners such as Arden Homestead, Russell Williams (Hanover Shoe Farms), Donna Franchetti and her husband Tom Doran. They are all wonderful people who we are blessed to know.”
Jacquie said her favorite horse is Goalfish.
“Goalfish is now 22 years old and living out his golden years on our farm. We bought him as a yearling for $13,000 and he made close to $600,000. In 2000, I won The Yonkers Trot with him, something I am very proud of.”
And rightfully so, for Jacquie is the only female driver to win a Triple Crown race.
Throughout her long career, Jacquie has raced among some of the best drivers in the sport.
“I’ve never subscribed to ‘having an idol.’ I admire many people in the sport, mainly because of their work ethic and honesty, which is very important to me.
“I was on tour with Bea (Farber), along with Janet Irvine, JoAnn Looney and Sandy Fisher in the ‘80s where we would go from track to track racing against the leading drivers there. We made a great team for more often than not, we beat them!
“Linda Toscano has become the poster child for women trainers — and justifiably so. She is taken seriously and with good reason for she does a wonderful job. I’m so glad to see her recent induction into The Hall of Fame.”
Jacquie said many other women in the business don’t get as fair a shake as the men in the sport.
“We have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good as men. I’m not complaining, it’s just a fact of life, although I have to admit it is way better today than when I first came to the States in 1970.
“In 1972, Frank and I went to Foxboro to race our horses. On arrival, I had the presiding judge, Chester Boyle, tell me, ‘I’m not having any women drivers here at MY track!’ Well, he was overruled and had to let me drive, but when I got my cancelled check back, it was all crumpled up as if retrieved from the wastebasket.
“I really don’t know where the sport will be in 10 years from now. I just hope I’ll be around to be part of it.”
As Hollywood Heyden has said, “Where else can a 72-years-young woman compete against men half her age and hold her own?”
*Note: I have been getting letters asking if I would write a story on Bea Farber. Unfortunately, her family informed me that Bea is in a home and unable to correspond with me. Also, Sandy Fisher, another well-known female driver, sadly died last year.