With his degree from the University of Virginia in hand, Connor Hankin had a vast array of career choices before him. He could have continued his studies toward a graduate degree, or he could have found employment in just about any endeavor that interested him.
Or, he could have taken a gap year or so and worked with horses, a vocation in which he has obvious talents. Riding largely for champion trainer Jack Fisher, he stood second in the jockey standings, and he is regarded by veteran observers as one of the most talented young riders to come along in some time.
All those paths and more were open to him, but he has decided to take the road less traveled. At least temporarily, his steeplechase career ends with the Saratoga Race Course meet. On Sept. 10, he reported to the U.S. Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va., to enter officer candidate school.
“At a certain point, I just feel like doing something to serve my country,” he told Mark Singelais. of the Albany (N.Y) Times Union in early August. “Doing something meaningful is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, and I would regret not doing it. I think it’s the right time at this point.”
Hankin, 22, will undergo a 10-week training regimen at Quantico and, if he passes, he will then be commissioned as a second lieutenant. After that, he reports for combat training. He hopes to specialize in intelligence, he told Singelais.
Until he reports, he is expanding on the fitness training required of jockeys, including running several miles each day. It’s been said that flat jockeys are, pound for pound, the strongest athletes in the world, and jump jockeys are not far behind them.
“We’re very proud of him,” said his father, Mike Hankin, who with wife Ann races as Bruton Street-US.
Connor Hankin was best known as a timber jockey until last year’s Far Hills meet, when he won two hurdle races with Bruton Street-US horses, including Scorpiancer in the $100,000 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle for novices.
He was 2015’s champion apprentice jockey and has won with roughly one-quarter of his mounts this year, including a double at the Iroquois Steeplechase.
“I’ve said consistently that outside family, stepping away from riding would be the hardest part about it,” he said. He is taking leave in style. On Aug. 4, he rode Scorpiancer to a second-place finish in the A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) at Saratoga.
“But I couldn’t give this up yet,” he said. “The opportunity to ride at Saratoga has been a dream of mine, to ride in a Grade 1, so it’s special and I’m very grateful.”
Hankin told Singelais that his cufflinks are American flags. “I was raised by my parents—and their parents as well—to feel very privileged to be part of the family I’m in and to live in this country,” he said. “I don’t take that for granted, and that’s part of the reason I’m doing what I’m doing.”