Head over heels is not the most tactful expression to describe a jockey’s love of horse racing. But it is the manner in which 22-year-old Krista Carignan fell for the ponies.
Krista Carignan on her way to the track
“I started cleaning stalls at a young age because I wanted to have a horse and needed to make money,” said the jock on opening day at Woodbine. “When you’re 13 or 14 you can’t really work just anywhere, so I went to a stable and I groomed for three years.”
Nearly a decade later you can still feel her passion for the sport from her honest and straightforward Twitter account - - @JocKCarignan
Breezed 5 horses on the training track at Woodbine this morning for Colebrook Farms. What a beautiful day to be working outside. Link to Tweet
Carignan, who also delivered flyers and newspapers as a kid, eventually worked her way into the barn of trainer Jim Hoffman at Marquis Downs in Saskatchewan. After a couple years of hard work rubbing horses, Carignan earned the opportunity to be a gallop girl, before eventually getting a few mounts and winning her first race on a horse named Just For Dad. She’s not the first horse-crazy girl to start out with a curry comb and end up holding the whip, but she’s certainly traveled a long way to do it.
Dressed for success
“I started in Saskatchewan riding for Jim Hoffman at Marquis Downs and then went to Alberta,” said Carignan, where she would ride at Stampede Park in Calgary and Northlands Park in Edmonton. It was a good learning experience for the young jock, albeit an unforgiving one. “Smaller tracks are tough as there’s a lot more contact as the turns are so tight.”
Carignan moved her tack across the country to Ontario in 2009 and tried to crack the talented Woodbine jockey colony. Life at a new track can be difficult. It is a test of patience and perseverance - - waiting and hoping to pick up a mount, any mount, even if it’s the longest shot in the field. Although she had some success, Carignan settled into a busy, but ultimately, more rewarding routine in 2010 splitting time between Fort Erie and Woodbine. It’s a journey that fans and friends can follow on Twitter.
“I signed up in the spirit of what Elissa Blowe (Media/Marketing Manager) and Rick Cowan (COO) are doing at Fort Erie to try and get the word out,” says Carignan. “Even if I’m just talking about my trips to Woodbine or to tweet, ‘I worked a horse at Fort Erie today’, anything that mentions Fort Erie is a good thing to me. I know there’s an etiquette to it and I’m sure I’m terrible at it but I’ll pick it up!”
If anything, Carignan’s Twitter feed is endearing. Her daily missives illustrate, in real time, the struggle and the beauty of pursuing a dream providing followers with a fly-on-the-wall experience of the real racing world.
“I think horse people take that (behind the scenes experience) for granted,” says Carignan. “There’s an elusiveness to it that not everybody really knows what goes on. The two minutes in the race is just the tip of the iceberg. That race is the result of months of preparation before a two-year-old is running.”
The aftermath! Oh my ladies, are we out a Jock and a Broadcaster?! http://yfrog.com/h269duzj Link to Tweet
And so, followers can join in on the jock's room antics, constant workouts and the daily grind of mornings split between Woodbine and Fort Erie. Not least to mention the 90-minute drive between tracks. Fighting traffic may seem a tedious chore, but it’s part of the master plan.
I'm sitting in my car at fort erie, drinking coffee and watching snowflakes fall on my windshield :s Link to Tweet
Instead of this weather bein called an 'Alberta Clipper' they should really call it a Saskatchewan Spring. Trust me, I would know. Link to Tweet
“People notice you more when you’re winning,” states Carignan. “I can stay up here (at Woodbine) and win a few races but you’re not going to get the good horses if you’re running last all the time. It’s a vicious cycle so it’s better off to be somewhere where you can compete.”
Krista competing at Woodbine
She did more than just compete at Fort Erie in 2010. The hard-working Carignan hustled more mounts home than any of her fellow jocks to become the meet’s leading rider. Her 93 wins from 531 mounts put her well clear of journeyman Real Simard who won 60 races.
Just brzed 2 @ WB, got Timmy's and GAS(ouch), an on the 407 so I can make rounds at FE. http://yfrog.com/h7rxcrhj Link to Tweet
The road is long...
“Fort Erie is a little more like home and what I’m used to,” says Carignan. “I love the people there and the track. I love Woodbine too. The money is really good up here and I love the city but I’ve tried to do Woodbine based out of here in 2009 and it was really difficult.”
Back and forth from Woodbine to the Fort...
Even with the departure of Chantal Sutherland to California, the talent pool at Woodbine grows ever deeper as new jockeys such as Juan Delgado and Jesse Campbell arrive from south of the border. The former won four races on opening day.
Whew! Just had a great jog on the outter turf course... Bit of a mad dash with all the geese nesting out there, they're sure fast! Link to Tweet
“As you can see it’s gets tougher all the time,” says Carignan acknowledging Delgado’s four-bagger. “I find I get more business in Fort Erie and then I get noticed by people up here, or sometimes a horse from Fort Erie will come up here and I pick up a mount.”
It was on a pick up mount that Carignan’s 2010 season came crashing to a halt.
“It was actually a last minute mount for a trainer from Fort Erie that I knew,” starts Carignan. “I had only rode one other horse for him, which was also a pick up. The morning of that race, the jock who was scheduled to ride booked off and I saw the trainer of the horse walking into the race office so I grabbed him and asked him for the mount.”
The horse was Bluedevilsprayer and the result was tragic .
“It was a really nice horse. A nice two-year-old,” says Carignan. “In the post parade he felt great. I thought I had a good shot and then it just so happened that down the lane he fractured his right front ankle.”
It is a dark part of the game but the ride perfectly illustrates the topsy-turvy nature of the sport. Carignan had put in her time. She hustled to earn the mount and left the gate with a chance. Making his first lifetime start, Bluedevilsprayer pressed the pace, and responding to Carignan’s signals made a move into the lane and drove clear of the field. It should have been Carignan’s first allowance win at Woodbine.
“He was an eighth from home,” says Carignan wistfully. “It looked like he was home and cooled out. He was four or five in front and it just goes to show that you never know what’s going to happen. It’s just so sad because he was a young horse.”
It was a moment that should have been all about the joys of victory. Instead, Carignan once again found herself falling head over heels - - this time to the polytrack.
“I rolled…but the problem with the polytrack is that it’s kind of like velcro,” says Carignan. “Ask anyone who has fallen on it, you just stick to it. I was really fortunate that I hit it and was able to keep rolling. Jim McAleney fell last year and broke his collarbone and all eight ribs on one side and the surgeons had never seen anyone break all eight.”
She has a funny definition of fortunate.
“I fractured my collarbone and it moved…which was actually good too,” says Carignan. “Because then they did the surgery and put in a plate and six screws and it heals twice as fast. With other collarbone injuries it’s hard to stabilize.”
If that sounds debilitating, it was.
“The first three months I couldn’t do anything,” says Carignan.
However, she persevered through a gruelling rehab and spent the winter working horses at Ocala and has returned to the races in peak condition. Now at full strength, and even with rehab over, she continues to work her fitness routine.
Last set of the day here in Ocala http://yfrog.com/h07bbdnj Link to Tweet
Whew, just finished another training session with Scott Paul. I'm loving this boxing stuff! Link to Tweet
With live racing returning to Fort Erie on May 7th, Carignan looks forward to returning to the border oval and re-uniting with Puss N Boots stakes champ Kettle Rapids.
“He’s a big beautiful grey horse,” gushes Carignan. “That was a fun race to win because everybody loves that race and you have to jump in the pond.”
Her enthusiasm bubbles over when prompted for a horse to watch in 2011.
“There’s a filly I rode last year a few times called Sharing The Love and I’m interested to see how she is when she comes back a little bit older,” starts Carignan. “Kettle Rapids will be back again. I could sit here all day and names horses I’m excited for from $5K claimers on up to cup races. Especially the ones that win no matter what scale they’re at because they try so hard. I’ll look just as forward to being on a solid $5k horse as I would for an allowance horse because they give you that same feeling. They’re still trying their guts out.”
And Carignan’s trying too - - not only to be successful as a jockey, but also to promote the game she loves as a leader in social media who hopes to one day have a lot of followers.
Best view in the whole world! http://twitpic.com/24yalb Link to Tweet
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To follow Krista Carignan on Twitter, Click Here and be sure to check out the new and improved Fort Erie Website. The Fort Erie meet kicks off on Saturday May 7th!
As always, keep track of the latest goings on in the world of horse racing by clicking into TripleDeadHeat's Woodbine News page or join in on the conversation by following TripleDeadHeat on Twitter.