Growing up, Jacob Shepard was a city boy who was a fan of racing. He watched racing on TV, had a subscription to The Blood-Horse and would go to racetracks and breeding farms in Kentucky with his parents on spring break from school.
Around age 14, his family moved to a small farm south of Indianapolis where they bred their own Thoroughbreds. It was a lot of learning by doing, but they had some success, and a lot of great memories. Since that time, he's earned a Bachelor's Degree in Agricultural Communications from the University of Kentucky, worked at TwinSpires.com, lived in California, and went back for more school at the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program.
The Race Track Industry Program is incredibly unique, and offers opportunities for students with all kinds of backgrounds and experiences, even for students who are coming around for another go at college.
In his own words:
In Kentucky, I worked with my mentor, Ted Bates, at his boarding and sales prep farm in Lexington, learning about horsemanship, and relating to clients. I foaled mares, prepped yearlings for auction and assisted Mr. Bates with consulting decisions. One of the big lessons I learned from working with Mr. Bates was be on time! It's simple, but it tells a lot about someone. I also learned that the horse comes first, and everything else is secondary. Mr. Bates was incredibly gracious and generous to me and my family, and I hope to return the favor someday.
One of my favorite racing memories, other than those I had raising horses with my dad, involves 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus. Dad and I would often head to Keeneland for their July Yearling Sale, where we would make guesses on prices and chat pedigrees. In 1998, Fusaichi Pegasus was the sale topper, at a whopping $4 million. He was such a physical presence and it was obvious then he was headed for bigger things. Fast forward to the first Saturday in May, in 2000. I had just completed my first year at the University of Kentucky, and was heading to the Derby with some college buddies. I put a decent amount of money (for a college freshman) and told everyone who would listen, bet on Fu Peg, and he came through.
I have been the program manager while working at Rillito Park. It is my first year working here at Rillito, and it has been great working with other students in their jobs. We put a lot of what we have learned in class about the management of a track into practice, and at the end of the day, we chat about what went right, went wrong, and come back the next day and apply that.
I put together the color program for live racing at Rillito, and also put together programs for our simulcast tracks. I supervise the program sellers, and coordinate with them during the day on their stock levels, and also assist Rillito guests as they take in a day of racing. It's been a really interesting experience, as prior to coming on at Rillito, I had little to no graphic design experience, so I think of my time as Rillito as another skill I've got in my back pocket when I graduate from U of A, and the camaraderie with students and management experience has been priceless.
I'm interested in all facets of racing. Once I leave Tucson, I could see working at a track in management or the racing office, at a farm or sales agency in a bloodstock consulting position, or at a trade paper/website, publishing stories about the industry. There is a lot of opportunity in our industry, and I'm really excited to get out there.
What is something being done right in the racing industry? Pre-race exams. Medication thresholds. Aftercare. More and better turf racing (NYRA Turf Triple). The claiming process as instituted by the CHRB. Some stallion farms instituting breeder's “upside” offers as part of the contract between them and the mare owner.
What is an issue I'm concerned about? Stallions covering large books of mares. On one hand, it's protectionism to limit that, I understand that, and wouldn't want to see any kind of limitation there. One the other, it waters down the product for that stallion, and squeezes demand for other stallions who are potentially overlooked. My Dad and I existed as small breeders who sold weanlings and yearlings, and so stud fees, auction prices and stallion books are constantly of interest to me.
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