Katie Clawson is a young up and coming apprentice jockey, who is quickly making a name for herself. At just 20 years old, Katie is in contention to win the leading rider title at Indiana Grand for 2017. She is also in the running to win the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey. Katie recently sat down for an interview with 5minutestopost.com on Wednesday, August 16th. We thank Katie for her time and we look forward to seeing her in the winner’s circle!
[5MTP] When did you decide to become a jockey? Was there something in particular that influenced you to become a jockey?
[KC] It was around the age of 12 that I knew I wanted to become a jockey. None of my family members were in the horse business, however I grew up on a Dairy farm and was always around animals. We did have a horse on the farm and I also took riding lessons starting from a young age, but it wasn’t what spurred my interest in becoming a jockey. What actually got me interested in becoming a jockey was Zenyatta. One day, I happened to be watching television and there was a race with Zenyatta running. By that point, Zenyatta had already won her 12th or 13th race. At that time, I knew nothing about Zenyatta, but I fell in love with her. After that, I followed her and all her races. That is when I knew I wanted to become a jockey.
[5MTP] How did your family react to your career path?
[KC] My family has always been extremely supportive in everything I’ve wanted to do. They had signed me up for riding lessons, when I was only 7 years old. Along the way, I also tried out show jumping, cross country riding, so my family knew I had a love for horses. They were obviously concerned about the positives and negatives that come with being a jockey. My family has been supportive along the way.
[5MTP] Some aspiring jockeys attend the North American Racing Academy and some work their way up by working in the backstretch. What path did you take to get to where you are today?
[KC] When I knew I wanted to become a jockey, I did visit the North American Racing Academy, as well as took a detailed look at their curriculum. Ultimately, I decided against going to school and instead took the path of getting “real life” experience, by working my way up from the bottom up. Our family knew a few people who were into thoroughbred racing, in particular a couple from church that owned racehorses. I spent quite a bit of time talking to them, trying to learn as much as I could. I would read all the industry publications, such as The Blood-Horse, and I would watch pretty much anything horse racing. Also, social media has played an important part in helping me with my career. It was through social media that I met my best friend. Through her, I met people in the industry and got my first job as a hotwalker. I also got to watch her train. I was lucky to meet her and things really fell into place.
[5MTP] At such a young age, you’ve already made quite the name for yourself. Do you have a mentor(s) or someone advising you?
[KC] Yes, John Ortiz has been my mentor. I met John through trainer Kellyn Gorder. John was previously an assistant to Kellyn. Before I even obtained my jockey license, John helped me with identifying my strengths and weaknesses and from there, I was able to make any necessary adjustments.
[5MTP] Are there any particular jockeys or people in the industry that you look up to?
[KC] Pretty much any of the top jockeys, but in particular, I use John Velazquez as a model of how I want ride. Another person that I turn to for advice in making decisions career- wise is my fiancée, who is in the industry. I know and trust him to give me an honest opinion and sound advice.
[5MTP] What challenges have you faced as a young jockey, if any?
[KC] I think my experiences are fairly typical of other young jockeys trying to break through. You want to make a name for yourself and you’re always trying to get mounts, which was especially the situation over the winter and when I first started out. In the beginning, it was hit or miss. I would ride for one trainer and then ride for another. The key for me has been establishing a good relationship with a trainer and doing what I need to do, as a rider, to ensure that they have a good perception of my riding. In the beginning, I would pretty much ride for anyone I could get a mount for and eventually I established good relationships with certain trainers. For example, I ride a lot for Tom Amoss. My agent does a lot of work with him and obviously for me, it’s great to have a good relationship with him.
[5MTP] Horse racing is no different from other male-dominated fields. Chantal Sutherland, Rosie Napravnik, Tammi Piermarini are some of the well-known female jockeys in recent years. What challenges have you faced as a female jockey, if any?
[KC] They have paved the way for the rest of us. They all established themselves by skill alone, as dominant riders that could compete at the top levels. It puts to rest the conversation about female jockeys being inferior. For me personally, I haven’t encountered much of that kind of challenge…at least not to my face.
[5MTP] The media has covered the topic of trash talking between jockeys on race days. Is that something you’ve encountered? Is it as prevalent as the media suggests?
[KC] I’m naturally a quiet person and I tend to keep to myself. However, racing has made me more outgoing. I actually haven’t heard much of it. If it exists, I don’t engage in it. If something were to happen like that, I would just step away because I wouldn’t want any conflict with another rider. Perhaps it is a bigger issue with the guys, but it isn’t something I have experienced or engaged in.
[5MTP] With the strict weight requirements, do you find it difficult to maintain the riding weight? What is your typical diet/exercise regime on race days?
[KC] I have a session with my personal trainer at the gym twice a week and then I will also go to the gym, on my own. I’m generally very active anyway, with breezing horses in the morning, the gym, back to the track and racing. Obviously, if I feel I need more conditioning, I’ll go to the gym. From a nutritional standpoint, it’s about self-control. Cookies and cake are delicious, but aren’t the best choices. I tend to maintain a healthy diet, such as tuna and spinach. I don’t obsess about the weigh-in, as that isn’t helpful and actually causes unnecessary stress. The number doesn’t really mean anything. You can actually start the day off light and after hydrating oneself as the day goes on, weigh more. So, in the end, it’s a much better approach to be smart about nutrition and fitness.
[5MTP] Do you remember your first winner? What was the feeling like?
[KC] Definitely! It was my third career start, after my first two starts both ran second at Churchill Downs. It was on Street Thunder in race 5 at Churchill Downs on July 17, 2016. I actually wasn’t nervous about the ride, as I had experience galloping her. My family actually attended my first two starts in person, but for this race, they couldn’t make it, as my younger brother’s baseball team playing a game, working their way up to the state championships. But, they were able to watch the race on live stream. It was an incredible feeling that day.
[5MTP] How do you decide which mounts to ride?
[KC] It’s up to my agent, who has the condition books. I will do my part, by doing the work in the mornings. I will talk to trainers, pay attention to the horses in their barns, exercise them in the morning and also look at their races. If I get on a horse I really like, I make sure to let my agent know.
[5MTP] Do you feel more pressure riding a horse that’s favored as opposed to a longshot?
[KC] Not really. It really depends on the circumstances. Maybe the horse is nervous or is known to have issues breaking from the gate, but generally no.
[5MTP] Do you have a routine that you follow when preparing for a race?
[KC] Yes, I will get the program for the card, evaluate the horse’s past performances, watch videos of past races and do my own handicapping on my races. Obviously, the more experience I have with a horse, the better. If it is a horse I have never ridden, I will try to talk to the jockey that rode the horse previously and of course, I will talk to the trainer.
[5MTP] What are your short term goals?
[KC] I have two short term goals. For now to the end of the Indiana Grand meet, my goal is to win the riding title. Another important goal of mine is to win the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey. I have competition, but my goal is to stay focused and continue to win. After the Indiana meet ends, I plan to ride in the Churchill November meet and then I’ll see where the winter takes me.
[5MTP] What are your long term goals?
[KC] My longer term goals change from month to month. I’m not committing to anything and my plan is to just things fall into place. Obviously all the top jockeys ride at Saratoga, so that would be a long term goal. Also, winning a stakes race and any graded stakes race would be great. [Update: Since the time the interview was conducted, Katie has since had three mounts at Saratoga – on August 20th, Race 3, Bodie’s Valentine for Michael Maker and on August 21st, Race 5, Hembree for Michael Maker and Race 9, Taste for Talent for Michael Maker]
[5MTP] What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a jockey?’
[KC] Try to find someone who will have your best interest in mind…..not for personal gain and not for help in the barn. It is easy to pick out those kinds of people. More prevalent are girls at the racetrack trying to become jockeys…people will try to take advantage of them. If there are no other viable options, then go to the jockey school. Try to understand what your options and opportunities are and take it from there.
Follow Katie on twitter, @zjockey19!