Sunday, February 9, 2014

Joan Scott, Trainer




To casual followers of the sport, Joan Scott arrived on the big stage when her filly Dr. Zic – which she also owned with close friend Marette Farrell and other partners – won the Grade I, $300,000 Vinery Madison Stakes at Keeneland in 2010. But Scott had spent the majority of her life preparing for that moment at the pinnacle. After showing hunters and jumpers as a youngster, she left her home in Virginia to work with Saddlebreds in Kentucky, where she latched on to an opportunity to break Thoroughbreds. Meeting horse lovers from a variety of backgrounds and cultures was an intoxicating elixir to Scott, who knew from that point she had found her calling. In Kentucky, then-Juddmonte President John Chandler introduced her to legendary French trainer Alec Head; Scott’s horsemanship skills and enthusiasm brought her to the fabled European training grounds of Newmarket in England, the Curragh in Ireland and Maisons-Laffitte in France to ride and learn. On her return to the United States in the early 1990s, Scott worked as a gallop person and assistant for several of the sport’s biggest names: Nick Zito, Elliott Walden, Carl Nafzger, Hal Wiggins and the late Bud Delp. When Zito put her in charge of a string owned by Marylou Whitney at Churchill Downs in 2001, it was only a matter of time before Scott opened her own public stable. Prior to Dr. Zic’s Grade I victory, Scott had won the Grade II, $350,000 Kelso Breeders’ Cup Handicap at Belmont in 2003 with Freefourinternet. Scott – whose 20-horse stable at Tampa Bay Downs includes graded-stakes placed stakes and multiple-stakes winning filly Cor Cor; multiple-Grade II runner-up Ruler of Love; and stakes-placed 3-year-old filly Babe’s Ruler – took time recently to join the track’s “Racing In The Sunshine” guest roster.

IF YOU WANT TO LEARN TO SPEAK A HORSE’S LANGUAGE, you need to take time to be around them and watch how they act and react to things. It takes time and patience and experience. It’s like being around people – learning how to read them, seeing how they act. I took riding lessons growing up and learned how to jump, ride saddle seat and Western pleasure, all that stuff, but you can learn a lot from just watching. Even on the racetrack, you watch how someone else gallops and the horse goes good for them, so you try to learn from that. You learn every day. There is so much to learn.

IT’S HARD TO SAY I’VE MISSED OUT ON ANYTHING by working with horses all my life, because it’s all I’ve done. My parents got me a pony when I was 8 and I think everybody expected me to outgrow it, but I never did. I’m really glad, because I love what I do. Nothing beats the feeling of being on the track in the morning working with horses – unless it’s winning races in the afternoon! Even the mistakes I’ve made, I’ve learned a lot from them, and it’s helped me get further ahead. I feel very lucky.

I STILL GALLOP A FEW HORSES IN THE MORNING, but usually you’ll see me on my pony overseeing the operation. I’ll go through phases when I get on four or five, but it’s nice to be at a point now where I have really good help and I can get on when I want to. As you get older, it’s a lot of strain on your body, and I wake up sometimes with my back hurting a little.

NICK ZITO WAS THE FIRST PERSON WHO GAVE ME AN OPPORTUNITY and just turned me loose with horses. He would send me on a van to run horses in a stakes somewhere, and when the Breeders’ Cup was at Woodbine in 1996, I stayed at Belmont and helped run the shed. Those opportunities gave me a lot of confidence. Hal Wiggins, who won the Kentucky Oaks with Rachel Alexandra, is a lovely, kind person who was good to his help and enjoyable to be around. It’s great to work for a lot of different people, because there are so many different ways to do things. I tried to pick out the important things and to remember you can’t know everything, but don’t be afraid to ask for an opinion or advice.

I’M CONCERNED ABOUT THE FUTURE OF OUR SPORT. Some of the smaller tracks are closing, and I worry about the casinos involved in racing getting rid of the horses eventually. I hope racing sticks around, because it’s what I love. As an industry, we need to find a way to improve the public perception of racing. I think if we could establish a national commission and set uniform medication rules where everything is transparent, that would be an awesome step in the right direction. People are getting the wrong idea about us. In most cases, Thoroughbreds are well-cared for and have everything they need. I want my horses to be happy and healthy, because if they’re unhappy, they’re not going to perform their best.

I BELIEVE IN HARSHER PUNISHMENT for anyone who is cheating, because it’s affecting my livelihood, hurting the horses and defrauding the public. Make owners give up the purse money, or give their horses suspensions. If owners feel the pinch and are not allowed to race that horse for six months or a year, they’re not going to be happy and are going to be more selective about their choice of trainer. I think owners along with trainers need to be held responsible just to make change happen.

WHAT DO I LIKE BEST ABOUT HORSES? I appreciate their honesty. They tell us volumes, if we just listen. They give their life to us; they run their hearts out. You have a few who don’t really try, or maybe they aren’t capable enough, but that’s OK. They didn’t volunteer to be here, and maybe they could excel at another career. All in all, they’re pretty amazing – so honest, kind and trusting, such a big creature yet one we can handle and lead around. My favorite part of training is to follow them as they get to the races, and see the light come on.
REALLY, IT’S LIKE HAVING YOUR OWN KINDERGARTEN CLASS. I’m the teacher, they are all students, and it revolves around the time and effort you put in to give each one the chance to shine at their very best. I try to figure out what each horse does best – are they suited for turf or dirt, to go long or short, then to give them that opportunity. You don’t just stick them in the program and run them six furlongs on dirt the first time just to get a race in them. You try to figure out where they belong.

DR. ZIC HAS BEEN MY BIGGEST SUCCESS STORY, SO FAR. Marette Farrell picked her out at the Ocala 2-Year-Old Sale and bought her for $40,000, and Ziccy gave me my only Grade I win to date and earned more than $350,000. Plus, I had her from the beginning – her first stakes victory was the Sandpiper Stakes here at Tampa Bay Downs – and I’m proud of that. We put her through the 2012 Keeneland January Sale and she brought $375,000, even though the market had dropped off a few years ago. You have to have good connections to get good horses, and Marette knows how to pick out a runner. Neither one of us has millionaire connections, so we can’t screw up very often.

I HAVE A HOME IN LEXINGTON, KY., AND ONE HERE IN TAMPA I bought about six years ago. I live with two adorable pups I adopted, Yoshi and Bucky. When my other dog died of kidney and liver failure, I was so upset I was sure I wouldn’t get another. Then two days later, I was back at the Tampa Humane Society and picked out Bucky. They – we – have fun together.

THE BEST ADVICE I CAN GIVE ANYONE GOING INTO THIS BUSINESS is to work hard and work smart. Be around good people, and have confidence in yourself. Not to sound arrogant, but my last couple of years as an assistant, I had come to believe I could do a better job than was getting done. Then do it! You have to be ready for the opportunity. They say luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, and I’m a big believer in that.

WHEN STARTING OUT, IT’S NOT A GOOD IDEA to take horses on deals, or just take anything. (Trainer) Frank Brothers told me that when I was galloping for him, and he is right. And nobody wants to do a deal on a good horse. The bad horses will make you look bad. Then the owners don’t want to pay you, and everybody is unhappy.

OF COURSE, YOU NEVER KNOW where a good horse is going to come from. A couple of years ago, a client sent me a homebred and another horse by Peace Rules that he bought from an acquaintance.  I wasn’t too excited because Peace Rules hasn’t produced a whole lot as a sire. Well, it turned out the homebred didn’t pan out, but the Peace Rules colt was Ruler of Love, who won the 2012 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Stakes and was third last year in the Grade III Derby Trial and second in the Grade II West Virginia Derby and the Grade II Super Derby. It shows you they all deserve a chance.

I WAS LISTENING TO BILLIE JEAN KING on “Fresh Air” talk about the traits of successful people she has known, and when she said “Champions adapt,” that stuck with me. When you come to the barn in the morning and don’t have any grooms, or this is missing or that is missing, or it’s pouring rain, you can’t say the sky is falling and pack it up. You have to figure out where you’re going and how you are going to make it work.

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