DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas (KXAN) — Tami Purcell Burklund retired from Quarter horse racing with a winning career. She rode more than 9,400 horses with more than 2,100 wins. This year, she was inducted into the Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame – the first and only woman to receive the honor.
“I was really surprised,” Burklund said of that award.
Now, she is coming out of retirement to raise awareness for breast cancer.
“I feel like I will run the most important race of my life this Saturday,” she said of the Mother’s Day Stakes in Louisiana. She’ll be riding a horse named Louisiana Corona. It’s a bloodline Tami is familiar with. In 1998, Tami was, and still is, the first female jockey to win the All American. It was a million-dollar race. She won on the horse called “Corona Cash”. Louisiana Corona is the daughter of Corona Cash.
Tami will be the only female jockey running in the race Saturday.
We met Tami on her family’s 200 acre ranch, where she personally takes care of the horses herself. There’s a grey horse named Elliott.
“That’s his nickname. His registered name is Elected Official.”
She doesn’t ride him much anymore, but he’s one of her best friends, she says.
“He pretty much saved my life,” Tami said, choking back tears. “Fame can go to a person’s head, and around the racetrack, there are a lot of temptations.Years ago, I was focused on my career, and missed a lot of birthdays and Christmas’. Elliott changed that.”
That was 22 years ago. Elliott was a feisty horse that won, but bucked. Trainers grew weary of the horse’s stubbornness, but not Tami. She took on the challenge, pulled him from the oval track, and taught him to barrel race. And he started winning championship after championship. He’s 25 now and has a miniature donkey named Peppermint Patti who follows him around the property. He stayed close to us during the entire interview with Tami.
“He made me stay closer to home because he would only let me train him. I think that was what saved me from making bad decisions around the track. I had to be home more to work with him.”
Tami spends most of her time now training horses to barrel race. And she teaches hundreds of kids to barrel race every year.
“God has blessed me with so many things,” Tami said. “All I wanted to do was ride horses. I was never able to have children of my own. But he let me take this gift of loving horses, and get pretty good at it. I teach hundreds of kids every year, and I feel like that was what God wanted me to do with that gift. People think I’m shy because I don’t talk that much. I’m just more comfortable around animals. I talk much better sitting on a horse than I do standing on the ground.”
Saturday, she will wear a jersey with the names of breast cancer survivors, victims and those still battling the disease.
“I found out many people I have ridden for in the past are on the silks, or the names of their family members. I never knew they had gone through that and it’s an honor. So many people that supported me that I don’t even know, and now they are entrusting me with their loved ones on the ride of their life.”
She’s been able to briefly train on Louisiana Corona in San Antonio, but she say she’s ready to win on Saturday.
“When Tami agreed to ride Louisiana Corona, my partner Michael LeBlanc and I were elated,” owner Jason Richards said. “We are both huge fans of Tami Purcell and really admire the impact she has had on quarter horse racing. We wanted to use this platform to promote breast cancer awareness and who better to team up with than the most successful female jockey in the history of quarter horse racing. Tami is a name that everyone knows and respects in our industry and she is very generous with her time and energy to promote this worthy cause. Although we are proud to be raising awareness to a great cause, we are also trying to win this race against nine other talented horses and I have no doubt Tami will do everything possible to make that happen. When Tami is in the saddle, she has the heart of a lion.
Tami has won every major Quarter Horse race. When she retired, Tami was Quarter Horse racing’s all-time leading female rider of money earners.
In 1996, Tami won the AQHA’s Mildred N Vessels Award for Special Achievement in American Quarter Horse Racing. She left racing in 2000 to join the professional barrel-racing circuit and is a two-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo Qualifier. She also won the WNFR Rising Star Award. She retired from barrel racing in 2007, and currently teaches barrel racing.
The Mother’s Day Stakes race is May 10th, and can be seen online at deltadowns.com.
The Black Eyed Susan race is May 16th, and will be aired on NBCSN. The Preakness is May 17th, and airs on NBC.