Janine SMITH didn't appear overly impressed with the fact that last Saturday at Assiniboia Downs she became the first female jockey to win the $50,000 Winnipeg Futurity Stakes for two-year-old colts in the 84-year history of the race.
The 25-year-old native of tiny Denman Island, in B.C.'s Georgia Strait, had this to say about her second stakes win of the season.
"Well, it was the first 50-grand race I won, so that was a big deal. I'm happy to be the first woman, but I guess you also have to figure maybe that I was the first woman to ride in it on such a good horse."
The horse was Zdeno, a two-year-old gelding purchased at last year's Manitoba yearling sale for $31,000 by Barry Arnason, Cam Ziprick (the breeder), Al Daley and Darrell Sundsbak. The offspring of Milwaukee Brew-Silver Sonnet-by Silver Deputy, is trained by Chad Torevell and has won all three races he has entered this year, including the $40,000 CTHS Stakes (Tyrone Nelson up) on Aug. 16.
As a Manitoba-bred, he can still add the $50,000 Buffalo Stakes to his credits on the last day of the season, Sept. 22.
"If he wins the Buffalo Stakes, I believe he'll be named the horse of the year," said Smith, whose only other stakes win this season came on July 20 in the Gold Strike Mile on another Torevell-trained horse, Just Add Salt.
Like Zdeno, Smith's career is on the rise. After high school, she made a decision to follow her dream. While her classmates were looking toward university or other traditional forms of post-secondary education, she chose Olds College near Calgary, with a desire to become a jockey. "They had a three-month course (at Olds) centred on horses and riding."
Upon graduation, she worked at Stampede Park in Calgary and then Northlands Park in Edmonton.
"I did every job imaginable -- grooming, hot walking, cleaning stalls and galloping. In the winter, I headed down to Payson Park Thoroughbred Training Centre in Florida to gallop, and Turf Paradise in Phoenix."
One of the things that separates jockeys from other professional athletes is that, for the most part, they are self-taught and self-coached. Without early help from mentors such as Real Simard, who rode at Woodbine and Fort Erie, 1985 Sovereign Award-winning jockey Nancy Jumpsen, Alex Ferris, and Twylla Bensmiller, who taught her how to gallop, Smith maintains she may not have come this far in the four years since earning her jockey licence.
With six dates left in ASD's 2013 schedule, Smith has 19 wins. Add to that five more at Turf Paradise and her total is 24, which is two more than her previous best year at Fort Erie in 2011. Her career tally is 58.
Smith says the reigns are in her hands as to which direction her career will go.
"I'm on my own only if I let myself be. If I want to learn I need to seek out people who can help me. At every track I go to I watch the veteran riders and they help me.
"It might be something like, 'don't do that or you're going to get yourself killed', but a lot of them are really good. Here, I'll go to Adolfo (Morales) or Paul (Nolan) and ask them why am I doing this or how can I fix that. Horse racing is like any other sport, you have to keep learning.
"It's really humbling to keep going back, watching those replays and seeing your mistakes over and over again. They cost you races and money. But if you don't actively keep trying to learn and get better and stronger, you'll never improve."
In her first year at Fort Erie (2011), leading rider Krista Carignan gave her some valuable advice.
"She urged me to practise switching sticks (whips from one hand to the other). She also told me it doesn't matter if you win a race, you have to make it look good too.
"You also have to have somebody backing you, because you are going to make mistakes. To have a barn that's loyal means a lot and Chad (Torevell) has been so good to me. (Ziprick, Arnason, Sundsbak and Daley) have been great too. They've given me so many great opportunities."
Smith, will compete in one of two stakes races this weekend. Tonight she'll ride Just Add Salt in the $50,000 J.W. Sifton Stakes, but won't contest the $50,000 Gold Cup Stakes tomorrow.
Post time both nights is 7 p.m.