August 2017 Issue - page 10

Page 10
August 2017
PENNSYLVANIA EQUESTRIAN
By Chris Forbes
Heather Hollahan has been
training horses since 2009. Here
is her story in racing:
CF: Are you a Pennsylvania
native? What is your background
with horses and racing?
HH: Actually no. I'm origi-
nally from Rockland County, NY,
and started legging up thorough-
breds at San Luis Rey Downs
in California in the 90's. When
I started training again I was
based at beautiful Delaware Park.
When Delaware started shutting
down stabling in the winter I tried
Florida one year, Penn National
another and then Parx. I had a
great winter there and never left.
Growing up I was the horse
crazy girl in class. I worked at the
barn after school, cleaning stalls
just to ride. It kept me out of trou-
ble because my parents always
knew where to find me. Besides
reading horse racing books like
Black Gold
and the
Black Stallion
I really wasn't into horse racing.
When I was a kid almost all the
horses we rode were off the track
but other than that I had zero
interest (in racing), I just loved
all horses!
CF: How did you make the
transition to racing and what did
you think of horse racing the first
time you saw a live race?
Cornell to California to Parx: Trainer Heather Hollahan
HH: My first real introduc-
tion to horse racing came when
I was working at a horse reha-
bilitation center in California. I
was attending Cornell University
and I spent a summer as an intern
there. We had a SATO high speed
treadmill, lasers, therapeutic
ultrasound, thermography and
world class vets diagnosing and
prescribing rehab programs for
sport horses of all kinds. Upon
graduation from Cornell I became
the director of the program and
ended up with a client who
owned racehorses and sent us
two to rehab. I was asked to
participate in getting the horses
sound and back to the track. I was
hooked!
I ended up leaving to start a
business prepping horses post-in-
jury or layoff at San Luis Rey
Downs. The first one I worked
on was a gelding by Lear Fan
who had chips removed and ran
second when I sent him to Holly-
wood Park. I was 23 or 24 years
old and after that people took me
a little more seriously.
CF: You became a trainer
in 2009, here in Pennsylvania.
At what point did you want to
become a trainer and how did you
become one? Was the test you
took easy or hard?
HH: After some time in Cal-
ifornia I really missed my family
and ended up coming home and
working in the insurance industry
for many years. The financial
security was a relief after work-
ing with racehorses. I worked in
New York City and Philadelphia
and ended up building a farm in
southern New Jersey. I always
had horses and competed in FEI
dressage and earned my silver
medal. But I always had a feeling
of regret. I remembered driving
to work in California looking
forward to what I was going to
do with each horse. I felt like I
sold out for the money and was
missing my true calling but I had
such a good job it was too hard
to leave.
Then the economy crashed
and my opportunities weren't so
great anymore. So many people
were going back to school and re-
setting their lives to be what they
wanted to be when they grew up.
I did the same. I found someone
who wanted to buy a racehorse,
John Meehan, and took the
trainer’s test again at Monmouth.
There was a barn test and a
written test and it wasn't hard if
you've been around horses your
whole life. They wouldn't give
me the license until I had a horse.
So the next day we went up to the
Meadowlands and claimed one! I
didn't even have stalls anywhere
so I had to go to a training center
until Delaware gave me a shot
shortly thereafter.
The horse I claimed that day,
Car Thief, was the one I won my
first race with at Philadelphia
Park. He was 48-1 that day and
times were tough. I put $20 on
him and he won by a whisker!
That day was the first time I
heard my Mom cry because she
was happy. It was great. I lost
the horse to claim at Delaware
and ended up buying him back
cheap months later. I tried him
sprinting on the grass and he won
two allowance races and went
from being a $5,000 claimer to a
decent stakes horse.
CF: You have been a trainer
for about 8 years, have things
gotten easier or harder? Does
it get frustrating at times? Do
you have any idea how long you
would like to train horses?
HH: Well that depends on
the day. The highs are really
high in this business and the
lows are really low. Things go in
cycles so sometimes horses may
start peaking, races come up
exactly how you need them and
you start winning. Other times
horses don't get in, races come
off the grass, etc. and it's not so
much fun. I do have days when
I struggle with what's wrong
with the business. There are so
many wonderful horsemen that
work day in and day out putting
their horse’s needs ahead of their
own. There is a minority that
thinks differently and I struggle
with that. I've contemplated quit-
ting. But at the end of the day, I
love what I do, I love my horses
and all I can do is do the right
thing by them and allow the
progress being made on integrity
to continue.
CF: What is a typical race
day? How many horses do you
have at Parx Racing?
HH: I have about 10 horses
at Parx. I have about 10 more at
my farm including retirees and
young horses. So my day starts
by taking care of the horses
at the farm and then I go to
the track. A day I have a horse
racing is not much different
than any other day if the horse
is running at our home base
because everything is prepared
in advance.
CF: I always ask: Do you
think as a woman you have had
to work harder to earn the respect
of other trainers, owners and
jockeys in the industry?
HH: Yes, but the cool thing
is I own many of my horses.
I can claim horses and win
races without having to rely on
owners. However, I have found
a group of owners that appre-
ciates me. Some people get it;
you can be competitive in this
business and do the right thing
for the horses. When it comes to
jockeys, if you win races, they
want to ride for you. That's what
is great about horse racing. You
win when your horse crosses
the wire first; it's not based on
someone's opinion. I'm not going
to lie, I have felt the misogyny.
People may look for someone
else behind your success and
try to take it from you, or you
may not get the opportunities
you would as a man but over
time I've earned respect in the
business.
CF: Please explain what it is
to claim a horse and what do you
look for in a claiming race.
HH: I don't always use the
same formula but in general I
look for opportunity. For myself,
sometimes I like horses that are
more blue collar, that are consis-
tently first, second, and third but
may not have the ability to move
up. If you have a few of those
horses in Pennsylvania you can
do very well. They won't make
you famous but the checks add
up. Of course, we are all looking
for something we can improve as
well.
CF: Monmouth Park only
runs 50 days a year now. Dela-
ware Park has also scaled back
its live racing dates. What do you
see for the future of live racing in
the state of PA?
HH: I think the future
remains bright in PA as long
as the horsemen continue to be
successful at demonstrating the
importance of our industry in
PA. We must also continue the
progress in cleaning up our sport
and I mean now. So much has
changed for the better but we are
not there yet.
CF: Since Parx Racing races
pretty much all year long (except
a three week break in August)
you don’t get much time to relax.
What do you do in your spare
time?
HH: When I'm not at the
track or working at the farm I'm
on Equibase watching replays
and reading the pp's for the
races coming up. That's the
great thing about doing what
you love, your work and play is
the same. I also enjoy following
the horses that I've retired and
have moved on to new careers. I
don't ride much myself any-
more but love seeing what these
amazing animals can do when
given a chance.
CF: Thanks for your time in
doing this interview.
FEI dressage medalist Heather Hollahan took an unusual route to training racehorses—managing a
California clinic that rehabs sport horses. After helping two racehorses return to the track she started a
business focused on rehabbing thoroughbreds and went on to get a trainer’s license.
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