BY JIM WELLS
She has been warned repeatedly that horse racing is a tough business, that it’s a man’s world and no place for a young woman, especially one who, it so happens, is a mere 5-foot-1 and 100 pounds.
Training horses is a demanding occupation, relentless, hard and physical, with long hours and few days off. No place for someone of her sensibilities and physical dimensions.
Stephanie Herb has heard it all and replies figuratively the same way each time someone broaches the subject.
Get out of the way.
Training horses is her dream job and she’s not about to let the negativity and naysayers in the sport, the doubters and the doomsayers, take this away, certainly not with so much still awaiting at age 25.
And it all began so improbably.
A native of New Jersey, her mother and father, who became enamored of the southwestern desert during a visit, moved to Cave Creek, Arizona when she was four.
Cave Creek is horse country, with numerous small ranches in the area. It’s cowboy heaven, and it took hold on Stephanie
She began riding at a young age and, when the family returned to New Jersey after her mother began ill, she continued riding when she could, despite the prohibitive costs of lessons. And in the summer months, there were always those trips to Monmouth Park.
“I always loved horses,” Stephanie explained. “And when I saw the races at Monmouth, I was fascinated with the sport.
Her parents raised a question or two about her chosen profession when she first informed them of her intentions, but have become her biggest backers in the time since.
“They watch all of the races and are just as excited for me if I win or lose,” she said. “They don’t seem to care if I win or run dead last.”
She earned an associate degree in liberal arts at Ocean County College out of high school, but horse racing continued to beckon. So, she headed to Tucson and enrolled in the University of Arizona’s equine program, hoping to learn what she needed to pursue a career in training. The program’s emphasis more business oriented and was not what she was looking for, however, and she struck out to start a career. “I got impatient and wanted to get going on my career,” she said.
She began grooming for trainers at Rillito Park in Tucson, later moving to Turf Paradise in Phoenix. “I headed there to find a trainer to take me on,” she said. “I met Phil Hartman and he began teaching me everything I know.”
Hartman and Herb are at Canterbury this summer, and she is getting her additional opportunities to establish her career. She’ll get two more today (Saturday) in the fifth race, a sprint for maiden fillies, with horses she owns, Dialdownthecrazy and Calvert Cliff.
Herb is 5-4-2 from 21 career starts and total earnings of $36,700. She has started 13 horses at Canterbury and is 3-1-2, making her in-the-money percentage a respectable 46 percent and her winning percentage 23 percent.
“I don’t know how these two will do on Saturday,” she said. “But I’m really excited. We’ll see…”
Win or lose, Stephanie hopes to return to Shakopee next spring.
“It’s such a welcoming atmosphere here,” she said. “Everybody is helpful and friendly. Oh, yeah, I really hope to return. The purses are good and everything about the track itself is, too.”
In the meantime, she continues to take care of the five horses she trains, cleaning their stalls, bandaging their legs when it’s required, attending to their every need.
It’s exactly what she hopes to do for years to come.