Friday, 05 November 2021 13:21

Olds College Racetrack Programs graduate Janine Smith chats with Julie Brewster from Del Mar for Breeders' Cup

Written by Julie Brewster/HRA
Janine Smith with Hidden Connection at Del Mar Janine Smith with Hidden Connection at Del Mar Julie Brewster/HRA

It’s Breeders’ Cup and we had a chance to catch up with Olds College Racetrack Programs graduate Janine Smith who is at Del Mar with $2M NetJets Juvenile Fillies contender Hidden Connection.

Janine graduated from the Exercise Rider and Jockey program, and she worked in Alberta for several years before following her dream to be a jockey. She race rode for about 10 years but has since hung up her jockey saddle and is now an Assistant to trainer Bret Calhoun. Janine rides a lot of horses in breeze work and manages the daily routines of one of the Calhoun race barns. She’s been based in Kentucky all fall and after her week at Del Mar she will be moving to Fair Grounds Race Course in Louisiana for the winter.

HRA: Congratulations on Hidden Connection’s success! How has your experience at Breeders’ Cup been so far?

It’s incredible. Hidden Connection shipped in and she settled in beautifully. So far everything has been world class. Del Mar is beautiful and the Breeders’ Cup people have been amazing.

I actually thought about the Canadian Derby this week, as we were tacking her up to go for our morning jog. The numbered saddle towels are quite slippery and I remember a similar towel that we had on Cool Diablo for the Canadian Derby preview – it was slippery and a few others had already slipped on horses so we added a chamois for the preview. I added a chamois to Hidden Connection this week to make sure we avoided any saddle slips! I remember Shayna Anisman and I sleeping on a pallet of feed at Northlands to be with Diablo the night before the Canadian Derby and how much fun that was.

HRA: You’ve come a long way from sleeping in the barn at Northlands Park to Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar!

Oh for sure. But, you know, the love of the horses and the excitement of having a good horse in a good race is exactly the same. We are attending a reception tonight but I know I will stop and check the filly on the way home. We have added security in our barns, but that need to check in on the horses never goes away! I have so many great memories from those years in Alberta, and still have so many friends from the Olds College and Alberta racing. I rode a few powerhouse horses in Alberta and that feeling of sitting on a good one is the same, it’s just a bigger stage.

HRA: You’ve been an exercise rider and jockey and now you are an Assistant at the Breeders’ Cup. Tell us about your experiences and the next step on your journey?

Olds College gave me a great introduction to the sport. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started, I just knew that I wanted to ride and one day be a jockey. I have worked for some incredible horsemen, and so many lessons that I learned at Stampede Park and Northlands Park have stayed with me. I achieved my dream of becoming a jockey, and Real Simard (retired jockey who was one of Janine’s College instructors) helped me with that. Real was always so positive at the College, and he continued to be a mentor for years after. We rode in the jockey colony together at Fort Erie and he was always helpful. I had to give up being a jockey, it was just too hard to keep my weight down. When weight becomes your first job and riding a second job you know it’s taking a toll. But being a jockey made me a better rider and breeze rider, I know what a horse needs to do on the track to win so I’m thankful that I followed that dream.

I was in Pony Club growing up on Denman Island in British Columbia. I think I have a lot of skills from that, and I like to be organized. We also had to be really organized at the College course. Theresa insisted that things be looked after, and those lessons are so valuable now. I handle a lot of the shipping that we do to other race tracks and every horse needs to have all the proper paperwork, equipment and tack to ship in and out for a race. I love managing that part of the racing barn. Bret is a great horseman and he and his wife Sara run a good operation and I’m learning a lot of people management skills. I’m doing some hiring and managing the staff and really learning a lot more about that side of the business. For now, I want to keep breezing horses and managing a race barn – it’s a perfect mix of horses and people skills!

HRA: Tell us about how the Olds College program helped you?

The focus on learning the correct way to do things stands out for me. They taught us everything we needed to get a good foundation and give us an ‘in’ to the industry. The focus was on giving us the riding and horsemanship skills that we could build on. It’s a small industry in Canada, and hard to break into if you don’t grow up in it. But there are so many great opportunities and experiences that I’ve had, and I know that the Olds program gave me the basics and the foot in the door.

It was a demanding, exacting course and I thought at the time that the instructors were too hard on us. I realize now that what I thought was nitpicky is actually what is required to be successful! Nancy Jumpsen gave us so much confidence, she’s such a great hand and it was a gift to learn from a Sovereign Award-winning rider. Real Simard was so positive and a great mentor, he continued to be a cheerleader for me when I became a jockey. We even rode at Fort Erie together.

Twylla Bensmiller wasn’t one of our instructors, but she was an instructor after I graduated. I have to thank her for teaching all of us younger riders to show up and dress up and look the part, that’s been so important. Her professionalism and attention to her attire has helped me at Keeneland and Churchill Downs and now on the track at Del Mar for the Breeders’ Cup. All the small details that we learned on the track in Alberta have added up. And Theresa Sealy works so hard to make sure that every student is placed in the shedrow that suits their skills and their dreams.

I think back to the college program and I know that the instructors all wanted us to succeed. I’m so glad they were demanding, because I have been able to build on those skills. It was the foundation that I am still building on.

HRA: Tell us about Hidden Connection:

She’s high strung, but in a good way. Like, she’s always on the move and you could think she’s impatient, but it’s because she gives 100% to everything we ask of her. And she’s always ready to be asked for more. I am not her regular exercise rider, but I am her breeze rider. She has a great stride and she galloped out so strong, I knew she was special the first time I breezed her before we even got back to the barn. She does everything in hand and so easy and she’s getting better and better as she matures. I’m so excited to be part of the team with her here. She’s got class, and she knows she’s special! We have paddock schooled and gate schooled and I’ll paddock her for the race.

I can’t wait for the race – our training job is done and now it’s up to the horses. I just hope that she and Reylu (Gutierrez) get a clean trip. And I want her to win! She deserves to be here.

HRA: What advice do you have for future Olds College Racetrack Program students?

Number one - stick out the first year. It’s a hard course, and it’s a tough first year but it’s so worth it. And don’t be afraid of hard work – there are some long days at the racetrack compared to other jobs. But the horses make it so worthwhile.

I’d tell the students that you are entering a sport, and like working with any high calibre athlete it takes dedication to the sport. But every day it’s absolutely worth it when your team mates are the horses. It’s an extraordinary sport and the horses are the key to that. I’ve gotten to travel and had some incredible experiences. I’ve made great friends and make a good living, but the horses are why I get up in the morning!

HRA: Safe trip to Hidden Connection, we’ll be cheering for her and for you!

Thank you! I want to send a shout out to all the friends I made in my year at Olds College and other Olds College graduates and friends from Alberta. Omar Moreno, Ami Pooli, Colleen Ellefson, Janelle Castonguay, Krista Carignan, Twylla, Nancy, Theresa, Real, Colonel, Lianne, Cody – well everyone! I want to thank them all for their friendship over the years!

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