06/23/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT
For apprentice jockey Vicky Aragon, 21, the rush at the starting gate is a Zen-like experience: "I like to listen to the horse's hooves as we're coming out of the gate," she says. Her intense concentration has made her one of the country's hottest young riders. One memorable afternoon at Golden Gate Fields outside San Francisco earlier this year, the 5', 100-pound brunette drove home four consecutive winners. Aragon went on to become Golden Gate's top apprentice, guiding 19 percent of her mounts to victory, as compared with the No. 2 apprentice's 8 percent success rate. "She is a great rider," Daily Racing Form columnist Dennis Dodge says succinctly.
The Georgia-born daughter of a naval officer and a photographer, Vicky Meiser was a well-traveled youngster. She started to ride in Sardinia, then persuaded her parents to let her move to England to work at a riding stable. After high school in Van Nuys, Calif., she put in two years as an exercise rider at L.A.'s Santa Anita Park. Aragon's first professional race was in May 1985 at Yakima Meadows in Washington. For a time she had trouble getting mounts, but shortly after hiring agent Marc Puhich in June her luck began to change. In the past year Aragon has earned more than $100,000. She is currently the leading rider at Seattle's Longacres with 67 wins—36 more than her nearest competitor.
Divorced from workout rider Pepe Aragon after two years of marriage, Vicky will be losing her "bug" (the weight allowance given to apprentices) next month. She feels women jockeys are every bit as capable as their male counterparts ("When you're on a horse, you're all equal," she says), and to prove it, Aragon has a modest goal: "I would love to be the first woman to win the Kentucky Derby."