Assistant/exercise Rider Jennifer Patterson Plays An Important Role

Published By: 
Bob Fortus
Published: 
May 14, 2013

Trainer Shug McGaughey and assistant/exercise rider Jennifer Patterson walked together to Orb’s stall early Tuesday morning to see how the Kentucky Derby winner was doing after spending his first night at Pimlico.

Orb, who worked Monday at Belmont Park before traveling to Baltimore, didn’t go to the track Tuesday, but McGaughey and Patterson did.

“I walked out there early this morning – Jenn and I did – just to sort of get a feel for what it was like,’’ McGaughey said. “And she went up there and rode the pony, so she’d be familiar with it. I think this might be her first trip here riding.’’

Orb’s exercise consisted of walking around the shed row. Orb pulled McGaughey around for a few laps, and when his arms tired, Patterson took the shank.

Later, McGaughey hosed off Orb’s legs while Patterson held the colt.

Even on an easy morning for Orb, McGaughey and Patterson were working together closely. McGaughey, a 62-year-old Hall of Famer whose horsemanship is legendary, understands that a top-class stable depends on top-class help.

Concerning what Patterson has meant to him in her seven years in his operation, McGaughey said simply: “Everything.’’

“I mean, I can’t really put into words the appreciation that I’ve got for the job that she’s done over the years, and especially this winter,’’ he said. “As I’ve told her after the Derby, you’ll never know how much I appreciate what you’ve done for us. And I don’t think I’d be standing here today without her.’’

McGaughey’s barn, like many top outfits, has many longtime employees. Loyal help is a key to success in racing – or in any other business.

“It just says a lot about him as a person and as a trainer for people to stay in a barn a long as they do,’’ Patterson said. “You’re not going to stay somewhere if you’re not happy. And for people to stay there as long as they have – I mean, there’s people who have been there for 20 years. Leena (Lorieul, an exercise rider) she’s been there. She was back with Lure.’’

McGaughey said that the continuity in the barn is advantageous to him.

“We’ve got a lot of them that have been there longer than (Peterson),’’ he said. “I like walking in and seeing familiar faces. Even the ground- work guys (grooms and hot walkers) sort of realize, know what we expect, so I don’t have to tell them all the time. The same thing with the riders. I very seldom ever switch (on a horse).’’

Peterson, 32, from Wilmington, Del., comes from a solid  background with horses.

“I showed horses when I was much younger, and fox hunting, and I did ride in amateur flat races and was part of ARCA (Amateur Riders Club of America) … and traveling around the world – Germany and France and England and Italy – riding at all different racetracks,’’ she said. “So that was a great time.’’

She had been working for trainer Eoin Harty before coming to McGaughey’s Keeneland barn and asking assistant Robbie Medina for a job.

McGaughey said he first saw Peterson exercise horses at Saratoga.

“I didn’t know her, and I watched her ride for a couple days – this is the summer before the meet – and I went back and told Robbie, ‘Find me some more like that.’ But she’s grown too with the job. I think she’s a better rider now than she was, and can relate from her steeplechase and show background to thoroughbreds.

“Her confidence level is through the roof. She’s an excellent, excellent horsewoman. She kicks a lot of stuff back to me in what we’re doing – ideas and that kind of stuff. That’s a big, big help to us.’’

Peterson said: “We communicate a lot about the horses. I just give him my feedback when I come back after riding them, my opinion, how they’re feeling, how they’re moving, where we think they might head next, from race to race. It’s very much of a team effort between him and me, and the rest of the people in the barn, too.’’

Peterson, who has been working with Orb since he was 2, has seen him progress dramatically.

 “He actually broke horribly in his first race, was about 15 lengths behind the field. (Violence) won that race,’’ she said. “This was in Saratoga. He closed, and he just got beat. … We realized that he does have some talent.

“And then the same thing happened again at Belmont. He had a gate problem, and he slammed into the front of the gate. He really didn’t run that good that day, but he had such a problem in the gate, it didn’t surprise us. We really did spend some extra time with him, working on him. Once he got over that issue and starting breaking a little bit better, things kind of came into play. He broke his maiden at Aqueduct, and he’s gotten better and better ever since. He just keeps getting better.’’

Peterson said that Orb learns from every race. “He’s very smart, a very talented smart horse,’’ she said. “And every time he does something, he learns from that experience.’’

She’s learning about horses from McGaughey, whose patience with them stands out to her as a prime factor in his success.

“He doesn’t force his horses to run places where he wants them to run,’’ Peterson said. “He lets the horses kind of take us there when they’re ready to go. Two-year-olds, he doesn’t force his horses to run as 2-year-olds. If they’re ready to run, great. If not, he waits on them.

“A lot of our horses don’t even start till they’re 3. And I think that has a lot to do with – some of our horses are 6 or 7 years old running – and that’s because he gives them the time that they need. If a horse during the year is backing off and not doing like they have been, he’ll stop on them and give them time off.’’

Orb will be only the third horse to run in the Preakness for McGaughey. His last Preakness starter was Easy Goer, who finished second to Sunday Silence in 1989.

“We (referring to McGaughey, his help and the owners) want them to belong and have a chance,’’ Peterson said. “They don’t just throw horses into races. … That’s just how we are. That makes it fun, because we’re here because we belong. It’s fun.’’

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