The native of Washington state has worked her way up from walker to groomer to exercise rider to jockey at Oaklawn Park. She’s one of only two females starting live races this season.

“I’ve always been a woman in a man’s world,” she said.

But breaking barriers is not all that sets her apart.

In a sport often painted with elegance and refinement, Bailey is the exception. She is also a professional mixed martial arts fighter.

“If you saw her around the racetrack, you probably wouldn’t guess that she fights MMA because she’s so quiet,” said David Kembrey, Bailey’s husband of four years and an exercise rider at Oaklawn. “Then you look at some of her fight pictures and she looks ferocious, on top of another girl trying to punch her head off.”

A two-time state wrestling champion in high school, Bailey was the only girl on the boys team. She wrestled in college in Oklahoma, which led to an appearance on national television. She competed on “The Ultimate Fighter,” a Fox Sports reality show in which cast members fight for a contract with UFC, the top MMA marketing company.

“You’re either a fighter or you’re not,” Bailey said. “I have that grit. I have that grind. I’m very, very, very competitive.”

Although she lost in the first episode of the show’s 23rd season, her professional record is 3-0.

“Jumping in a cage and fighting another human being, that’s definitely something that’s not your average thing you want to do. When you add speed to the mix with horses, you’re living life to the fullest,” Bailey said.

There is a fire inside her to fight professionally again, so Bailey trains at a warehouse in Little Rock. For now, however, this adrenaline junkie is more focused on her horse racing career.

Whatever she pursues, she will work hard to challenge stereotypes.

“You can do whatever you want,” Bailey said. “That’s kind of how I’ve lived my life.”

Watch video: Chel-C Bailey is a jockey at Oaklawn (left) and professional MMA fighter (right). Images: KATV

by Kyle Deckelbaum Monday, February 10th 2020

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