Patrice Underwood had just finished a conversation on the growing Groom Elite program Wednesday morning when a woman and her daughter walked into the HBPA office seeking information on jobs in thoroughbred racing.
The class for the program is the largest and most diverse in its history and continues to attract new students interested in horse care management.
Hannah Nelson, a junior at Bloomington Jefferson, has been in contact with Underwood for some time by e-mail and skipped school on Wednesday to meet with her, accompanied by her mother, Toby Tremain.
Nelson’s dream is to become a jockey and Underwood, who rode as Patrice Finnegan when Canterbury opened in 1985, gave her some tips on Wednesday morning.
“I’ve really been bugging her for some time,” said Nelson. “But this is what I really want to do.”
Nelson became interested in horses in general while in a 4H program in Dakota County and on visits to a relative’s farm in Wisconsin. The interest has grown into a passion and now she is eager to see first hand how she likes the industry.
She was planning on attending a Groom Elite class on Wednesday and also committed to helping out in Steve Kane’s barn on Saturday morning.
Underwood said there are probably several reasons for the expanded interest in the Groom Elite program this year. Thirty-four students have enrolled, about twice the number from previous years.
“I’ve never had so many calls from people looking for work,” she said. “They call asking how to get a job at the racetrack. Some have experience, others don’t. A lot of them are local people.”
But not all of them. Kayla Williams drives from Buffalo Center, Iowa, to Canterbury on Tuesdays and returns home on Wednesdays.
Patty Adams and Joy Melby are horse owners taking the program. Cindy Berquist of Golden Valley worked in the business in 1985 and is enrolled, along with Emily Katner of Hopkins. Jesse Overton of Bloomington, a Minnesota Racing Commissioner, is enrolled, as is John Muckey, an assistant to trainer Franciso Bravo. The youngest member of the class is Kendall Van Winkle, a 9-year-old daughter to Hall of Fame trainer Dave Van Winkle.
“A lot of people are interested in the business but don’t know how to start,” said Underwood. Nelson, for example, wanted to know what is needed to become a jockey.
“There’s the Chris McCarron school in Lexington and Olds College,” Underwood said. “I gave her some tips on a healthy diet and weight control and told her never to get involved in flipping, in a bulimic lifestyle.”
In the meantime, Nelson plans to spend as much time at the racetrack as possible and to continue studying the jockeys, looking for tips.
“Jenna Joubert and Ry Eilkeberry,” she said.
QUINONEZ INJURED IN LONE STAR SPILL
Luis Quinonez, who won five consecutive riding titles at Canterbury Park, suffered breaks to both of his arms in a spill at Lone Star Park on Sunday.
Quinonez was resting at home in Oklahoma City on Wednesday. He will undergo surgery on his left arm on Thursday.
“I had both arms in casts for three days and could barely move my fingers,” he said. “They need to do surgery on my left arm tomorrow and put a plate in it. The right arm has a little bone broken near the wrist.”
Quinonez said doctors told him he could be sidelined as long as 12 weeks. “I’ve never been down that long before,” he said. “The longest has been five weeks. But you know doctors and what they say. I think I’ll be back in maybe six weeks.”
The Lone Star meet will end before Quinonez is able to ride again, but he hopes to be ready to go for the opening of Remington Park on Aug. 19.
Quinonez was injured in the fourth race at Lone Star Sunday after being stepped on by other horses after his mount broke down and threw him.
He said there is a chance he will pay a visit to Canterbury while recuperating from his injuries.