Joanne McNamara—the first to be dubbed by the turf media as “Exercise Rider to the Stars” for the long list of champions and world-class horses she rode in morning training—died Feb. 4 in Ocala, Fla., after a short battle with cancer. She was 67.

McNamara was born May 17, 1956, to Edward and Mary McNamara in the town of Bedford, N.Y., where she and her sister Patricia began showing ponies and finding a niche in the hunter jumper world. Joanne McNamara ultimately found her true calling in the world of Thoroughbred racing, where she excelled.

From the beginning McNamara proved she knew how to pick out talent.

Working for Hall of Fame trainer MacKenzie Miller and Rokeby Stables in her first racetrack job, she galloped her barn favorite Rokeby Rose, a multiple stakes winner who closed out her career with a win in the 1981 Flower Bowl Handicap (G2) at Belmont Park.

Rokeby Rose also became a prominent broodmare, producing 1999 Kentucky Oaks (G1)-winner, $3 million-earner and racing Hall of Famer Silverbulletday.

McNamara trained a small stable for her dad and a few other clients for several years, one memorable win being her dad’s homebred Campbell Hall in a maiden claimer at 67-1 odds in 1984 at Aqueduct Racetrack.

But the lure of working with top horses won out and she returned to riding and working to help develop horses in the mornings.

“She was more interested in riding than running a training business,” Patricia McNamara said. “So she went back to what she truly loved: galloping fast horses.”

McNamara went to work for record-setting D. Wayne Lukas in the late 1980s in what proved a long and fortuitous association for both.

Some of the outstanding horses McNamara got on for Lukas were classic winners Thunder Gulch (1995 Kentucky Derby [G1] and Belmont Stakes [G1], 3-year-old champion male), Grindstone (1996 Derby), 1999 Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old colt Charismatic (1999 Derby and Preakness Stakes [G1]), Tabasco Cat (1994 Preakness and Belmont), 1994 2-year-old champion colt Timber Country (1995 Preakness) and Editor’s Note (1996 Belmont). She also worked with 1995 champion 3-year-old filly Serena’s Song (2002 Hall of Fame inductee) and Breeders’ Cup-winners Cat Thief (1999 Breeders’ Cup Classic [G1]) and Cash Run (1999 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies [G1]).

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