LOV E OF THE SPORT DRIVES THEIR PAS­SION FOR HORSE RAC­ING

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Her Cover Story -

This year marks the 113th sea­son of live rac­ing at Oak­lawn Park. The 2017 rac­ing sea­son runs through April 16 on a Thurs­day-Sun­day ba­sis, be­gin­ning with a spe­cial 12:30 p.m. first post open­ing day on Jan. 13.

Like most sports, horse rac­ing seems to be a male-dom­i­nated pas­time. For ex­am­ple, not a sin­gle fe­male jockey rode in the 2016 Ken­tucky Derby.

In honor of rac­ing sea­son and wo­man power, HER caught up with a few of the lead­ing ladies at Oak­lawn Park this month to bring recog­ni­tion to the women be­hind the scenes at our beloved race­track.

It’s not hard to un­der­stand why horse rac­ing is such a pop­u­lar sport to watch. The ex­cite­ment and en­ter­tain­ment it pro­vides mixed with the ease of ac­ces­si­bil­ity and bet-plac­ing are just a few of the el­e­ments of horse rac­ing that other sports are lack­ing.

The fact that thor­ough re­search can be done on the horses and jock­eys be­fore plac­ing bets, re­sult­ing in more pre­dictable out­comes, may also play a big role in the sport’s pop­u­lar­ity.

But race­horses aren’t born with their tal­ents. The jour­ney a horse takes to trans­form from a foal to a mon­ey­mak­ing race­horse is shaped by a tal­ented horse trainer.

Danele Durham has trained horses full-time since 2006, and this is her fifth sea­son on the grounds at Oak­lawn Park. She said she has been around horses since the age of 2, as her fa­ther owned race­horses and she grew up rid­ing show jumpers.

Af­ter suf­fer­ing an in­jury in the 1980s that re­quired her to take a few months off work, she be­gan gal­lop­ing horses at her fa­ther’s farm in Cal­i­for­nia and be­came hooked on the race­track life.

The time spent with her horses and the re­la­tion­ship she has with them is what Durham de­scribes as the most re­ward­ing part of her job. Be­tween the 24 horses she cur­rently trains at Oak­lawn and the ad­di­tional horses at var­i­ous train­ing cen­ters and farms across the coun­try, Durham said she

man­ages a to­tal of more than 100 horses.

When asked to de­scribe her job du­ties, she said, “To cat­e­go­rize it in terms that most peo­ple will un­der­stand, I’m kind of like a head coach. I line up all of the peo­ple that help make the team com­plete, which is the vet­eri­nar­i­ans, the jock­eys, the as­sis­tant train­ers, the horse­shoers, ev­ery­body like that. I pretty much man­age ev­ery­thing that goes on in the barn and make the de­ci­sions about which race the horse goes into and make the daily chart, which is the train­ing and says, ‘this horse is go­ing to gal­lop a mile to­day,’ or ‘this horse is go­ing to gal­lop 2 miles to­day,’ those sorts of de­ci­sions.”

The most chal­leng­ing as­pect of the life of a horse trainer is the hours, Durham said, adding that there’s no time clock — it’s a 24/7 job. She sleeps with her cell­phone in case of mid­dle-of-the-night emer­gen­cies. “You’re pretty much mar­ried to your barn,” she said.

Durham gained the ex­pe­ri­ence needed to do her job by tag­ging along­side hall of fame train­ers, in ad­di­tion to be­com­ing an ac­com­plished horse­woman be­fore ever en­ter­ing the rac­ing in­dus­try.

“I’ve done ev­ery job on the back­side, so when I ask some­one to do some­thing, I’m not telling them to do some­thing I wouldn’t do — I’ve done the job and I know ex­actly how I want it done,” she said.

Durham said she and her chil­dren own 15-20 horses of their own. Her son, Jack­son, who just re­cently grad­u­ated from Texas Chris­tian Univer­sity with a de­gree in me­chan­i­cal engi­neer­ing, serves as her as­sis­tant trainer, while her daugh­ters, Kather­ine and Caro­line, man­age their brood­mares and year­ling op­er­a­tion.

She lives in Hot Springs dur­ing Oak­lawn’s race meet and said she al­most con­sid­ers her­self a res­i­dent here, adding that she hopes to one day be able to run year-round at Oak­lawn.

“Since I ab­so­lutely love what I do, I don’t feel like it’s a job. It’s a gift to be able to earn a liv­ing do­ing what I love,” she said. “I love horses. I love horses and I love the sport of horse rac­ing.”

If she isn’t watch­ing horse rac­ing, Durham said she can usu­ally be found watch­ing foot­ball, adding that her chil­dren are all var­sity ath­letes and they are “very, very big into sports in this fam­ily.”

Nancy Holthus wears many hats at Oak­lawn Park. From be­ing Oak­lawn’s me­dia co­or­di­na­tor and pad­dock an­a­lyst to host­ing “Dawn at Oak­lawn,” Oak­lawn Park’s Satur­day morn­ing pro­gram, and be­ing in charge of Oak­lawn’s re­play show, “Oak­lawn To­day,” she seem­ingly does it all.

This is only her third year at Oak­lawn Park, but she has been in the rac­ing in­dus­try for more than 20 years and has worked in a lot of dif­fer­ent ca­pac­i­ties in the rac­ing in­dus­try, lit­er­ally from coast to coast.

“I ac­tu­ally spent the bulk of my adult­hood at the race­track in southern Cal­i­for­nia, which no longer ex­ists, called Hol­ly­wood Park. I worked at Hol­ly­wood Park and then in my off time I worked at a horse rac­ing chan­nel that is very well known called ‘TVG’ do­ing on-air work for them as well, so that’s how I pri­mar­ily got into the tele­vi­sion side of things,” Holthus said.

She lived in Los An­ge­les for 10-12 years be­fore en­ter­ing a “phase” that led her to be­gin look­ing for a life change.

“I al­ways, even when I lived in Los An­ge­les, would al­ways come home at one point or an­other dur­ing the race meet (at Oak­lawn),” she said. “I’d see friends and I al­ways had to come home dur­ing Oak­lawn’s sea­son. That was kind of the one race­track where peo­ple still come to the races, they en­joy the races, and my folks are still here. And I met some­body here.”

She said she was in­vited to the Ken­tucky Derby by her now-hus­band and the re­la­tion­ship con­tin­ued af­ter that. She left Cal­i­for­nia to re­turn to Hot Springs to be with him, and the rest, as they say, was his­tory.

“So I wound up liv­ing in Los An­ge­les and dat­ing all the wrong guys, then came back to Hot Springs and mar­ried a lo­cal. Be care­ful what you wish for!” she said.

“Oak­lawn was my very first track that I ever set foot on, and I ac­tu­ally started work­ing back with the horses, so I do have that hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence. I ended up mar­ry­ing a trainer and I do own horses that race dur­ing the meet, so it’s kind of all come full cir­cle, if you will, which is very cool and I feel very blessed to ac­tu­ally work at my all time fa­vorite race­track,” she added.

Kathy Howard was a suc­cess­ful fe­male jockey in the 1980s and went to work as a rac­ing of­fi­cial for Oak­lawn in the late 1990s. In the fall of 2000, she went to work for Frank Fletcher, a prom­i­nent busi­ness­man in cen­tral Arkansas who owns horses at Oak­lawn Park, as his rac­ing man­ager. She has been do­ing that for 16 years.

As Fletcher’s rac­ing man­ager, Howard de­scribes her job as be­ing the “li­ai­son be­tween him and the trainer. I’m in­volved with buy­ing horses, sell­ing horses, talk­ing to the train­ers, be­cause he is so very busy.”

When asked what her fond­est mem­ory of be­ing a jockey is, she said, “There are so many. I guess my ex­pe­ri­ence with rid­ing at Oak­lawn back in 1980. Back then girls were so in com­mon and I got a lot of press and it just seemed like ev­ery­body was root­ing for me so much from Hot Springs, and I fell in love with the town. In fact, my hus­band and I, of all the places we’ve been, we bought a home here on Lake Hamil­ton. This was our choice af­ter we’d been all over the coun­try.”

Howard is mar­ried to horse trainer Tom Howard.

She re­calls be­ing lucky enough to have been in­vited to a com­pe­ti­tion in Ja­pan for 28 days dur­ing her jockey days.

“I think one of the most re­ward­ing things, be­sides cross­ing the fin­ish line first — that was such a great rush — but I think the sup­port that the peo­ple, es­pe­cially in Hot Springs, gave me, and rooted for me, it just made me feel so good. Just like when my hus­band wins a race, it makes me feel so good that we have so many peo­ple that root for us. It’s not so much about me, or my hus­band — of course, it’s all about the horse, but I just get so touched,” she added.

Howard and her hus­band got mar­ried in 2003 and bought their home in Hot Springs six years ago. When she isn’t work­ing, she helps her hus­band in the barn in the morn­ings, mak­ing sure the “flow of the barn” is go­ing well, walk­ing and gal­lop­ing the horses and help­ing with pa­per­work.

Nancy Holthus, right, in­ter­views Hall of Fame thor­ough­bred horse trainer Steve As­mussen dur­ing her “Dawn at Oak­lawn” show at Oak­lawn Park dur­ing the 2016 live rac­ing sea­son.

Kathy Howard (for­merly Kathy MoorE) In tHE In­fiELD sAD­DLInG area be­fore a race in the 198Ms.

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