Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Day at the Races

A Day at the Races
by Elizabeth Stein

With the Preakness in the books and the Belmont Stakes only three weeks away, everyone around the country is in the horse racing spirit. In honor of that spirit, we decided to take a trip to Arlington International Racecourse, to see how a racing stable operates, and it wasn’t disappointing. As a hunter/jumper equestrian whose only experience with horseracing is watching it on TV, I can assure you, the glitz and glamour is only part of what makes a racing stable run.  

First, I have to give credit where’s its due, our day and all this insider information would not have happened without Alexis Kuhn, and everyone at Rodriguez Stables. Kuhn, 22, a Barrington Hills native, got into horse racing like most of us do, by watching it on TV. However, this former hunter/jumper rider was hooked and has worked her way up to being an assistant trainer, which is no easy feat in the racing business.

Kuhn, who owns two race horses of her own besides training, was able to give us an inside look into what it takes to run a successful racing stable and with three horses scheduled to race, was able to show us what it really took to produce a winning race horse.

And they're off! 

First thing you have to know if you’re ever going to get into racing is everyone has to be licensed, down to the hot-walkers. To become a licensed assistant trainer, Kuhn had to pass a 60-page test, get two letters of recommendation and complete a barn test. On top of all that, you need to be licensed at each track you’re racing at because the drug rules are different (their rules are closer to the FEI rules).  
If you want to be an owner of a racehorse, you’re in luck, it costs no money to board and no money to enter races, the betting handle provides the purse. You do still have to pay for certain things like vet bills and shoeing.  If you have an owner’s license and a trainer, you can buy a horse in a claiming race (the cheapest is five thousand dollars). Trainers charge a day rate, which covers their fee, the overhead like feed and tack, they make their money on the horses winnings, 10% goes to the trainer and the jockey.

As with any aspect of the equestrian sport, it’s not just finding the right horse, it’s finding the right trainer and creating the right program. For Kuhn, finding the right training method depends on the horse.

“We’re more conservative, we run once a month or every three weeks. We’ll train every day or six days a week slow training, trot two miles, gallop really collected or slow. Depends on what they need or what their bodies are telling you. It’s building endurance. Since these horses are bred to go fast, training is really slow, its about educating the horse and not pushing them past what they can do since they’re still growing, ” Kuhn affirmed.

There is a strict routine for before and after the race as well. After a race, the horses are walked three to four days for them to recover and usually before they are set to run, walked so they’re fresh. Race day routine can be different for each horse however, Kuhn’s own horse gets a little nervous so she’ll train him the day before the race or even the day of a race so he doesn’t know he’s running.  
Being one of the few women on the track has provided Kuhn with her own set of obstacles so her motto and the truth of anyone in any equestrian sport is simple- “The key is finding your motivation is to keep evolving and never take no for an answer.” And that method is paying off, the stable is winning at a 20% rate, which is huge in the racing the business.

The wonderful thing about equestrian sports is truly how diverse they are. Hunter/jumpers, horseracing, eventing, dressage, polo, reining, pleasure riding around the world, there are truly so many facets of the sport anyone with a love of horses can participate. This trip to Arlington provided one look into another part of our sport, with hopefully many more like it to come.

Video Project - Arlington Race Track

A Day Trip to Arlington Race Track
by Jingting Hui

Monday, May 23, 2016

Behind the Scenes - Arlington International Race Track

Behind the Scenes – Arlington International Race Track
By Nicole Janiga

Alexis Kuhn breezes a horse on the main track.

At noon on Sunday morning, the gates to Arlington International Race Track open for a day filled with bright floral sun dresses, lunch and conversations on the terrace, and fingers being crossed for the favorite thoroughbreds to be the first ones to cross the finish line as the crowd cheers from the grandstand.

Before the races begin, crowds gather around the paddocks to see the muscular horses, highlighted by the sun, being brought out and exhibited with grooms and colorful silk attired jockeys preparing for the day’s races. With the announcer’s voice echoing throughout the park, talk of the horses, their odds, and their performance fill the open air. The eight horses in each race come out toward the grandstand and enter their starting gates on the track, ready to be released to gallop towards the finish line. After the few short minutes of excitement and anticipation, the volume of the crowd’s cheering increases until the winner enters the Winner’s Circle with owners, trainers, family and friends, scurrying to get in for a ceremonial photo and victory hugs before the next group of horses are brought out.

Unlike most hunter/jumper shows, horse racing attracts a wider variety of spectators. Guests don’t see, and often don’t realize, what happens behind the scenes at Arlington and all of the people that make it possible. Alexis Kuhn, assistant trainer at Rodriguez Stables, spent the day with Chicago Equestrian to show us what goes into making the well-known and well-loved tradition of horse racing happen every weekend.

With an alarm clock set for 3:30 am every morning, Alexis beats the sunrise and begins her day at the track by 4:15 am to exercise and train horses until 10:00 am. At the young age of 22, Alexis already helps manage 30 horses and owns two of her own. With memories from her hunter/jumper background, Alexis took a 180 spin and didn’t just dip her toes, but rather dove into the waters of horse racing.

 Alexis Kuhn after a morning of breezing horses.

Often times, many horses will train together.
Alexis and the exercise riders bring the training horses out to the dirt track, overlooked by Illinois Rt. 53, before taking them to the main racetrack. One horse after another, they trot, canter and gallop around the polytrack. With four feet floating above the ground for milliseconds at a time as the horse extends and contracts its body to cover more ground, the riders hover above their saddles with the wind gliding over their backs. As horses with flaring nostrils and glowing bodies covered in sweat complete their day’s work, their prideful strut carries them and their riders back to their barns after a successful session.
Alexis on the practice track.

After the horses are exercised and have concluded their journey back to the barn, they are hosed off with water while they dance around anxious to get back to their stalls. Each horse is then hand walked by hot walkers for a few laps around the barn, eyeing its own stall each time as it passes by and nickering to the other horses. Alexis ensures that each of the horses at Rodriguez Stables is properly cared for, seeing that they are getting their legs wrapped and poultice applied as needed, by venturing to the barn whiteboard to double check that the jobs are being completed.

Enjoying time off between work and lunch.
From the grooms carrying totes of brushes and curry combs from stall to stall and the hot walkers leading drying horses around the barn, each job requires a test of candidates’ abilities to ensure the horses’, riders’ and staff’s safety. Some tasks, like tacking a racehorse, have more rigorous requirements and are left to assistant trainers and trainers. With horse’s hooves carrying their bodies and jockeys at speeds of 45 miles per hour, having the saddle tightly secured in its rightful place is crucial to ensuring that no jockeys slip off and land on the ground among other horses running at similar speeds.

As the horses are saddled and brought out to the track, each racehorse’s “pony,” outfitted in a western saddle, makes the flat, black racing saddle on its companion seem nearly invisible by comparison. They aid the racehorse by jogging their prideful companion, eyes filled with anxious eagerness, out to their mark in the starting gate. By keeping the young thoroughbreds at bay, the “pony” horses serve yet another vital part in both the training and safety at Arlington and other racetracks around the world.

 Racehorse being led by its “pony.”
With all of the roles that it takes to make a day at the track possible, it is important to take a moment between races to sit back and remember the dedication and persistence that backs this sport.

Alexis believes that “the day you stop learning and stop evolving is the day that you’re done in this business… The key is you have to find your motivation to keep evolving and find something that motivates you to keep pushing forward … Mine is having a stake horse.”

On behalf of Chicago Equestrian, we would like to thank Alexis for taking the time to show us behind the scenes at Arlington Race Track, and we wish her the best of luck in following her dreams and finding her very own stake horse.

Alexis’s racing saddle.

Arlington Race Track: A Day With Alexis Kuhn
by Maddie Muuss

Alexis breezing on the warm-up track.

Our day at the Arlington International Race Track began with a behind-the-scenes tour of Rodriguez Stables, with 22-year-old Alexis Kuhn. Alexis is currently an assistant trainer for Rodriguez Stables, veering slightly from her initial path, where she studied Marketing for three and a half years at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. . By the age of eight, Alexis had already sat on her first horse but her riding career really began at the age of twelve. During her initial riding days, Alexis successfully competed in hunters, jumpers, and equitation. Although she competed for years, she still had to gain more upper-body strength to ride the race horses, since they pull more than she was used to. This gave her little option other than to be in the best shape possible.

Alexis’ fifteen years of horse experience also helped her transition to racing. Being familiar with horses gave her quite the advantage against any competition or anyone who doubts her abilities. Only six months after starting at the track, Alexis was ready to get her Assistant trainers license.

         Alexis and one of her horses.
“In Chicago, to get your trainer’s and assistant trainer’s license, you have to have three letters of recommendation and you have to pass a written test and a barn test. The written test is sixty pages and you have to be on the racetrack for two years,” said Alexis.

Since Alexis didn’t have the minimum time at the track, she had to search for a state that didn’t require the two years. That’s when she discovered that Indiana only requires six months. Alexis drove seven hours to take the test. She recalls thinking that if this test does not go well, the drive back will be the longest seven hours of her life. Luckily for her, she passed with flying colors in September 2014.

One of the most important pieces of advice Alexis gives to aspiring riders is, “Never give up is my next piece of advice. You always have to keep evolving and never take no for an answer. If someone tells me no, that’s my biggest motivation to say, ‘I can do it.’ I’m going to prove them wrong. I’m going to do it.”
One of the aisles in the Rodriguez Stables barn.

Alexis’ dedication makes her stand head and shoulders above the competition. She wakes up at 3:00 A.M. every morning so that she can get to the barn early. Even though she wakes up when most people are sound asleep, she never complains. This shows her passion for horses and making sure that everything is done the right way.

When asked what her goals are, Alexis says that she hopes to start getting horses in her name as both the owner and the trainer. She would also like to get more owners in the barn. The stable has a 20% win record, which is above average for the industry. She still enjoys being an assistant trainer but hopes to one day become a trainer. It seems that Alexis can only go up from here, and has big things planned for her future endeavors.

Alexis on the track.

I have no doubt that she will reach all her goals with ease, and maybe even surpass them. Her dedication is shown when she arrives to the barn before others, or when she makes sure that each horse has the best care possible. With her passion, dedication and love for horses, Alexis will have no issues becoming a successful race horse trainer.