This year's Steeplechase at Callaway will be different for many reasons, but one positive outcome of the COVID-19 crisis on Steeplechase racing is the new addition of a young group of amateurs to the race circuit.
For the first time in many years, the National Steeplechase Association (NSA) has seen an increasing amount of young riders to races across the nation. Steeplechase at Callaway Gardens will be no exception. At Saturday's event, all of the riders in the second and seventh races of the day will be amateurs.
Kimberly Kapacziewski, Director of Equine Operations for Steeplechase at Callaway Gardens, is thrilled about this new group of young riders on the circuit. "It's been incredible to see these young riders emerge this year," she explained. "They all work so hard to balance their education and their jockey training. Many are up before dawn to head to the barn, stop to finish school for the day, and then they're back working with their horses until dark."
Typically, amateurs do not have the opportunity to race as often as they have this season. COVID-19 impacted the number of jockeys able to travel to races this year. The result has been a tremendous increase in younger jockeys getting the chance to hit the track.
"Getting to see amateur jockeys have the chance to race has been a bright spot for all of us in the industry during this difficult year," said Kapacziewski.
Though the NSA has very technical rules on what constitutes an amateur jockey, Kapacziewski was kind enough to summarize the qualifications into two simple points. "An amateur is any jockey who has not obtained their professional jockey license. Riders must be at least 16 years old before they can obtain a professional license through meeting the various NSA requirements."
The NSA requirements aren't easily achieved, either. Rider safety is paramount. Among other things, amateurs must complete at least five fence races and timber races before they can even begin to obtain a provisional license to ride over hurdles.
"Our amateur jockeys are some of the hardest working, dedicated youth I've ever been around. It's been so special to watch them grow into their new roles this season. In addition to seeing the sheer talent of these young people on the track, it's been especially wonderful to see the next generation of riders begin to emerge. Those of us in the business love this sport so dearly. And our amateurs have brought many of us a lot of hope for the future of Steeplechasing. In such a difficult time, they've served as a needed reminder to us all that there are still brighter days ahead for our sport."
Curious as to who you'll see race at Callaway this weekend? Here are two amateur stars to look out for on Saturday.
According to the Steeplechase coordinators, Hendriks is scheduled to appear in both the second and seventh races on Saturday.
Here's a bit from Hendricks on his experience as an amateur jockey and why he's looking forward to Steeplechase at Callaway this year:
"I enjoy all aspects of racing but the biggest ones would probably be the competitive aspect, working with horses and winning. I became interested in becoming a jockey through pony and junior racing. I had a very fast pony and won many races on her so that got me excited to keep doing it. For this weekend, I am excited to hopefully ride some nice horses around a nice course. A special thank you to Mason Lampton and everyone else who helps put the day on."
According to the Steeplechase coordinators, Boucher is scheduled to appear in the seventh race on Saturday.
Here's what Boucher had to say prior to Race Day.
"I enjoy racing very much. I grew up around it, and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. My mom trains racehorses and my dad is a jockey, so I always knew I wanted to do it. When I was younger, there was nothing I was more excited for then going racing on the weekends in the spring and fall.
This is a very hard sport to get into without having a connection, so I’m fortune that my parents are a part of the sport. It can be difficult to get races because, compared to the professionals, amateur jockeys obviously have less experience. Sometimes it can be hard to compete with them or even get rides. It’s easy to be intimated by older, more experienced jockeys, but you have to remember that everyone starts somewhere! Callaway is one of my favorite meets of the year. It’s a very unique course to the others. Traditionally, horses always run left-handed, but here they go right-handed. Between that and the hilly terrain, sometimes better horses get beat by lesser ones, so it’s always exciting to see what happens!"
Can't attend Race Day this year?
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