Three jumps from the wire in Friday's first race, Caroline Quast looked like she had her third victory out of five mounts at Ellis Park. She wound up third, losing by less than three-quarters of a length. But what the heck? The Oklahoma-bred OU Make Me Happy was 45-1 and by far the longest shot in the field.
With very limited opportunities, Quast is making a reputation as someone who can boot a bomber home. Her two victories at Ellis Park paid $36.60 and $50. Since then she went to West Virginia's Mountaineer Park on Sunday and won on a horse paying $22.80.
Quast is a 32-year-old seven-pound apprentice, the weight allowance her mounts get until she gains her 40th victory. (She's now at 10.) While Quast has been riding races for parts of three years, she's been around horses her entire life, starting out in her native Germany, where she competed in show-jumping and dressage.
“Then that got a little boring and I said, ‘Let me try the racehorses,'” she said Friday.
Trainer Kenny Miller had never met Quast until she walked in the paddock to ride OU Make Me Happy. But he sure like what he saw in the $7,500 claiming race, the first time he had raced the 4-year-old filly.
“She walked in the paddock, shook my hand, told me who she was and I legged her up,” Miller said of their introduction. “We gave her a shot. She rode a good race. We just ran out of horse. We were three strides too short.”
Miller rode Quast at the suggestion of his cousin, Jeff Hardin, a huge racing fan who watched the jockey win on 24-1 shot Bold Force on July 14th and then on 17-1 Dulce de Leche the next day at Ellis.
“Kenny likes to use ‘bug boys' — we call 'em bug boys. So, bug girls — and I said, ‘Kenny, I think this girl can ride a little bit,'” Hardin said, using racing parlance for apprentice jockeys. “She can ride, flat out ride.
“I just think she deserves a shot. If she were male, she'd be getting more races — a seven-pound bug who was 2 for 4. She actually was 3 for 6, because she went up to Mountaineer Sunday and won. She also picked up a mount on a first-time starter who was really green and did a great job keeping that horse together to be fourth. She can ride. She just needs an opportunity. I want to challenge some of these trainers to give her a chance. Once you say ‘girl,' they don't want to ride them.”
Quast said that German girls are far more likely to go into the show-horse world, which is huge in Europe, than onto the racetrack. While she galloped racehorses in her homeland, she didn't begin riding races until later in America. But first Quast traveled all over Europe and New Zealand — she speaks seven languages, including Maori, the native language in New Zealand.
Listening to Quast speak, there's little indication that she's German. She cheerfully calls her accent “my cosmopolitan twang.”
Quast met her husband, American Ben Jarrett, in London. The couple went to college in Minnesota, where Quast earned a liberal arts degree with a focus on theater.
“After that, I just wanted to get back with the horses, and there you go,” she said. “I'd done my apprenticeship in racing back home in Germany, which means you go to school for three years, you work for a trainer for three years and then you get your license…. I tried different stuff. Hotel business, catering, just to see what I liked. And it's always been the horses.
“There's nothing more fun and exhilarating than this. This is what I've been dreaming of forever. It's a hard job, a very hard job. Especially for a girl. It's very cutthroat. It's heart-breaking. It's discouraging. Still, you do it because you love the horses.”
Heart-breaking? Discouraging? Quast's win on Bold Force ended a seven-month stretch without a victory.
“I hit the board a few times, and I got disqualified at Charles Town,” she said. “I came close but I never had a winner in those seven months. Breaking that stretch was unbelievable. I cried. I did.”
Jarrett is in the concert-lightning business, residing in New York and traveling all over.
“He goes off and does his thing and I do my thing,” said Quast, who lives in Lexington. “It's not easy. But we both love what we do and support each other. I think that's the most important part. He was here for my second winner, because he flew into Louisville to do a festival. He missed the first one and then rode up with me the next day and got to witness the second one. Oh, man. That was awesome. I always wanted him to be there for one.”
While she galloped racehorses in Germany, her race-riding career began in America at Finger Lakes in upstate New York. She went from there to Laurel and Charles Town before coming to Kentucky.
“It's paid off,” she said.
Now it's paying off for the bettors.
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