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Penny Ann Early
Penny Ann Early

created controversy in the horseracing world by becoming the nation's first woman to be entered into a race. In a show of “male solidarity,” the jockeys at Churchill Downs boycotted all three races she had entered. Her instant fame brought unexpected offers. The Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association immediately signed the 112 pound, 5’3” Early to a basketball contract, even though she had never played basketball in her life. Coach Gene Rhodes protested to management; however Colonels owners, one of whom was a woman not only kept Early on
the roster, but also ordered Coach Rhodes to play her in a game. He reluctantly followed her orders. She took the ball out of bounds and inbounded it to a wide-open teammate, who immediately called a timeout, and the Colonels removed Early from the game to a rousing standing ovation. Penny Ann, a divorcee and mother who had been around horses most of her life, was often accused of trying to gain publicity more so than mounts. She did make it to the races but very sparingly. She was so frustrated with maintaining her weight and getting enough mounts that she quit to become a trainer. In 1974 at the age of 30, she went on a strict diet and worked diligently to get her
weight down; however, her comeback was short lived when she broke her arm, ankle, wrist, and some ribs in a racing spill in which she was kicked around like a rag doll. Today, Penny continues to work with horses.