Last spring, I sat down to recap my very first sanctioned win over hurdles, which was done on the huge stage of the Iroquois in Nashville, TN. Last fall I sat down to recap the aftermath of that first win, and to talk about my second win but also a few low points that followed. I told about the struggles of being an amateur/apprentice jockey who was trying to gain experience all while trying not to learn things the hard way at the expense of owners, trainer, horses and fellow riders. Last year was, what I thought, a banner year for myself. I had proved to myself that I had what it took to ride jump races and be competitive. I had won two races and I felt like I belonged. I was proud of myself, but I wasn’t too sure how much more success would come my way. I was content with myself, as I said at the beginning of the year if I did not win a race in 2016 I was not going to continue trying to ride races and would focus on a training career which I hope will be in my future. Never in a million years did I see things going the way they would for me in the spring of 2017, but wow, I am not complaining.
The spring started slow, there were point to points postponed because of bad weather, and the biggest thrills early came from trainees. I have a small “stable” of my own that my boss, Jonathan Sheppard, supports me and lets me train on his facility. A horse I bought for cheap in the winter with my sister won his first start in open company over hurdles at Warrenton Point to Point. A few weeks later my long-time horse, Air Maggy, took the foxhunter division at the VA point to points by storm, finishing 3rd with two wins under my good friend, Kelly Wooster. They weren’t sanctioned wins, but it sure was fun, winning is always fun!
I rode a few flat races at the point to points prepping horses for the spring hurdle races, and had a few winners. I also got to give a first-time starter owned and trained by Jonathan Sheppard who I had hunted all winter his first go around a hurdle course at a point to point. I found it pretty rewarding to finally be at the point I could school a horse up and be trusted to take him out for his first experience in a race setting. But the spring didn’t really get rolling for me as a rider until I rode Orchestra Leader in his tune up race at Loudoun Point to Point, finishing 2nd by a neck. There was something that clicked with me that day that I hadn’t really felt before. That was the day I realized I wasn’t just riding to ride, and to have fun, but I was out there trying to win races. It was just a point to point and it was meant to be a tune up, but I was really looking forward to riding him back in 2 weeks at Foxfield.
Foxfield came up with a few tough horses, one being graded stakes winner Jamarjo. There are courses for horses, though, and I can’t say that I ever doubted “Ollie” that day. I just had a good feeling that if I let him do what he needed to do he would not get beat, I put the pressure on myself to ride a smart race, and knew that he would do the rest. Jimmy Day’s only instructions when I rode Orchestra Leader at Foxfield was to save ground and hang on, and that was literally all I had to do. I was getting more comfortable in races, I was able to relax him early and save him for the end. I saw one challenger about 4 fences from home and never saw another horse again, we won by 2 lengths and that was the first win of the spring for me.
After Foxfield I went back to the scene of my first win, riding again as the only female on the day in the Bright Hour Ratings race. This time I got the opportunity to ride 2014 Novice Champion AlltheWayJose, for Jonathan and Rod Moorhead. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite get it done. We ended up a game 2nd, but man did that hurt. A year ago, I would have been thrilled to be second, to have made it around, but this made me realize I am past that. I’m not interested in just making it around, I am looking for results, I am out to ride winners. I’m sure this is just coming with the added experience, and getting the taste of winning, but nonetheless it was a wakeup call that I’m no longer content with just making it around.
Still feeling stung by the 2nd place at Nashville, I went to High Hope to ride Orchestra Leader for the 3rd (2nd sanctioned time) time for the spring. It was a tough enough race, but I never doubt Jimmy and everyone at Daybreak’s ability to have him ready to run his race. I had never ridden at High Hope before, and I set the pace and was able to slow it down as no one went with me early. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of coming off the rail to the 2nd last hurdle and letting Ross up my inside. Luckily, Orchestra Leader didn’t care where we were running down to the 2nd last hurdle. He flew that fence and the last, and turned down all competitors to finish ½ length in front. What a thrill! I credit a lot of my success to this horse and his connections. I have learned so much about race riding from the advice and tips Jimmy has given me since I have been riding Ollie for the last year and half, and just Ollie himself has taught me so much. I am truly grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to ride a horse like Orchestra Leader. We were 2 for 2 this spring and have 3 wins together; he was sadly claimed out of the race at High Hope. I will hopefully have a chance to ride him again, but if not, I am thankful for all the thrills I was able to have aboard him.
The last race of the spring season, and I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to ride AlltheWayJose back in the ratings race. We decided to add blinkers, and I wanted to redeem myself from Nashville in the worst way. There was a front running horse that opened up by almost a whole fence at one stage of the race, but down the backside the final time “Jose” was pinging every fence, and I knew that this was going to be his day. Finally, the front runner tired 2 hurdles from home, and Jose was only getting started. He flew every single fence on the final circuit and galloped home to win by 15 lengths. This very well may be the most special win of my very short career to date. AlltheWayJose was novice champion in 2014, before struggling with breathing issues and needing 2 throat surgeries. As an assistant first and rider second, it has been painful to watch Jose go through all he has been through and very disappointing to think that he may never regain his old form. It has been so rewarding on so many levels to see him coming back to the horse he once was. His owner never gave up on him, and I have somehow gotten lucky enough to be the one getting a leg up onto him in his races this year.
Hard work pays off. Everyone says it, but man is it true. I’ve wanted to ride jump races for years, and I truly was not good enough for a very long time. But failure and I don’t do well together, and I am just so thankful that Jonathan has stood by me riding races when he could have told me to stop trying 2-3 years ago. The fact that I get to ride a horse of the caliber of AlltheWayJose who happens to be trained by Jonathan brings everything full circle. Last year this time I was thrilled to win a race, now I am thinking about how cool would it be to be leading apprentice for the year. A lot can happen in the next few months but knowing I have mounts that have the potential to run at Saratoga is beyond exciting. I am grateful for every single opportunity I have been given and so appreciative of all the support I have been given over the years up until now. I am so lucky, and am looking forward to the rest of the year!