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|Arlington Park Barn Notes (6/11/05)
Contact: Graham Ross
In today's notes:
Shannon Ritter, for eight years an underrated jockey and another eight as an assistant in trainer Elliott Walden's barn, saddles her first horse in her own name in Saturday's seventh race at Arlington Park.
Appropriately, her career debut as a trainer comes on Belmont Stakes Day, a winning day in the past on Ritter's resume, for it was seven years Saturday ago that the young horsewoman posed in the Belmont Park winner's circle with the Walden-trained Victory Gallop following the "Test of Champions" in 1998.
"I was with Victory Gallop every step of the way," Ritter said outside her Arlington Park barn on the morning of this year's Belmont Stakes. "I galloped him in the mornings and he was awesome. Victory Gallop loved his job and he was a pleasure to be around. Except for two jockeys -- Jerry Bailey and Robby Albarado -- I was the only person who was ever on his back. When he won the Belmont, it was the highlight of my life."
Incidentally, also running in New York Saturday, in a major stop on the road to this summer's Arlington Million, is Million nominee Quest Star, another Elliott Walden trainee who Ritter supervised on a daily basis until this spring.
"Quest Star is another good one," said Ritter. "He won Gulfstream's Pan American Handicap two years in a row, and this winter he led all the way around again and just got nailed on the wire. The 'Pan Am' has been his big race every year."
(Quest Star challenges six other Million nominees in Belmont's Grade I Manhattan Handicap in a Belmont Stakes Day supporting stakes.)
"I haven't figured out yet if I'll be able to watch that (Quest Star's) race," Ritter joked. "I might still be busy at the time."
Ritter saddles Thomas Van Meter & Michael Lowenbaum's aptly named Let 'Em Go in Arlington's seventh race Saturday, and that horse will mostly likely still be cooling out when the Manhattan Handicap field goes to the post in New York.
"I hadn't even thought about that," said Ritter of the ironic moniker of the horse serving as the first official starter for a longtime assistant trainer. "Elliott has been very supportive about me going out on my own. I was with Elliott for eight years -- the last five as his chief assistant -- and I've learned a lot from him. He's been very encouraging.
"I've been really enjoying myself since I've been here on my own this summer," said Ritter. "I'm not nervous about today. I feel like normal. I'm looking forward to running this horse today, and I've got another one I'm getting ready for a start next week."
Increasingly overshadowed by her recent years in a high-profile barn with a host of stakes horses is the fact that Ritter, now 40, began her career as a jockey.
"I always wanted to be a jockey, and I rode for eight years," said Ritter. "I won about 360 races as a jockey, and was the leading rider at Portland Meadows in about 1990 or 1991; somewhere around there.
"I was born and raised in a little town in the suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota," Ritter said, "and I also rode at Canterbury several years. Portland and Canterbury was kind of a circuit for me. One year I tried Kentucky and rode two winners at Turfway when I first got there, but still couldn't pick up any good new mounts.
"Not long ago, when I was still working for Elliott and galloping all those horses he had, some people asked me why I gave up riding," Ritter said. "I told them: 'If I'd have ever had the opportunity to ride horses like these here, I'd still be a jockey.' "
Christine Gabriel, Arlington Park's television personality since 1995, is another horsewoman with a winning Belmont Stakes background.
Twenty-four years ago, as a pony girl at Belmont Park, Gabriel led Summing to the post for the 1981 Belmont Stakes. Summing won that Belmont renewal, foiling Pleasant Colony's bid for the Triple Crown.
Jockey Miguel Mena, an 18-year-old native of Lima, Peru, celebrated his first riding double of Arlington's summer season Friday.
Mena, who rode here last year as an apprentice, won the sixth race aboard Ronald Schwed & Moises Yanez's Heavenly One, and came back to take the eighth of the twilight program astride Marco Salazar's Pentelicus Dance.
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