Kelsi Harr‘s first mount was her first win. It came at Canterbury Park on June 17, 2018 aboard Bandit Point. It was Father’s Day. “It was a very special moment,” Harr said then. “My dad was here cheering me on and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to kick off my riding career.” It
was her father that gave Harr her first horse when she was five. That sparked a passion that lead from pleasure riding to barrel racing and eventually to a profession as a racehorse jockey.
She’s come a long way since that summer afternoon and last Thursday earned her 40th win which meant losing her ‘bug’, her apprentice rider weight allowance.
Harr started slowly in 2018, learning the tricks of the trade. “When I first started I wanted to ride horses I rode in the morning,” she said. “I wanted to get comfortable and get my feet wet.” She rode mainly for her boyfriend Robert Cline at Canterbury. Nine mounts, two wins and in the money another three.
In 2019, she began the year in her home state of Arkansas at Oaklawn Park and continued at Canterbury with 154 mounts in all. Same schedule this year but with many more mounts, 285 thus far. At Oaklawn, a very competitive meet where top jockeys from around the country converge, she got an agent. “That helped me get into barns I would not have otherwise,” she said. Barns like those of Larry Jones and D. Wayne Lukas. She also credits access and success to hard work and “being there every day”.
She’s enjoyed what she’s earned. Riding in stakes races, and riding well. Highlights? “Getting to ride for bigger barns, earning their respect,” she said. Goals? “I’ve won two in one day. I’m looking for a triple.”
Harr’s become a student of the game, watching and learning from other riders.” All the jocks here and at Oaklawn have been helpful.” They provide constructive criticism while she watches and learns continually. “Some I watch and wonder how they do that,” she said, which causes her to work harder at her craft each day.
Harr has become a respected rider and a fan favorite with the trademark ponytail flowing from the back of her helmet and her affability with race fans, especially the young ones. This is a demanding sport. Athletically for sure but mentally as well, when meeting the expectations of owners, trainers and bettors is at times unrealistic. She tries “not take everything to heart. I like people to like me. You try to do the best you can by everybody. I try to ride my race.”
She must also balance her career with her responsibilities of being the mother of an 8-year-old daughter who spent the summer in Shakopee. The third grader recently returned home to begin school, and Harr is grateful for the help of her mother and friends while she remains away, acknowledging that it would be very difficult without that assistance. Parenting in the COVID-19 pandemic has become even more challenging. Harr recalls early spring at Oaklawn when schools were suddenly closed. “I was getting on horses in the morning and running back to the tack room to make sure [my daughter] gets on Zoom.”
Harr begins serving a three-day suspension Monday for a careless riding infraction, returning to the saddle Thursday. She’ll have to shrug that off, maybe accept what one rider told her – ‘If you haven’t gotten a set of days you haven’t started riding yet’ – because it is clear from the progress in her career that Kelsi Harr indeed has started riding.