There were plenty of well wishes and welcome backs when jockey Lauralea Glaser rode her first winner in nearly two years last weekend at Laurel Park, in just her second mount since the winter of 2017.
Truth be told, she hadn't gone anywhere.
Though the 25-year-old Glaser had taken a hiatus from race riding, she remained a familiar face on the Laurel backstretch, getting on horses every morning, seven days a week, as part of both her salaried job with trainer Dove Houghton and galloping for fellow trainer Greg Wilson.
It was the Wilson-owned and trained 5-year-old gelding Beltway Bob that provided Glaser with her return to the winner's circle, taking a narrow lead into the stretch and emerging from a four-way photo finish a neck in front following a sustained drive on the far outside.
“I love that horse,” Glaser said. “I started getting on him as a 2-year-old and he was really quirky and hard to work with and he took a lot of time. He's come around and he's turned into this really awesome horse and I've gotten really attached to him, and so has Greg. It just made the win even sweeter.
“It does feel good. I've missed it, a lot,” she added. “After I had walked away from it for a little while, I didn't really put any pressure on myself whether or not I was going to come back to racing. There were definitely a few moments where I was like, 'You know what? I miss it. I want to come back,' and then I would change my mind and give myself more time. So, to actually come back and get a win for Greg, who I've been working for for a while now, it just feels really good.”
Glaser will get the chance to recapture that feeling today, when she climbs aboard 4-year-old gelding Orient Point for Houghton in Laurel's third race, a maiden claiming event for 3-year-olds and up going 5 ½ furlongs on the main track. They are listed as the fifth choice in a field of seven at 6-1 on the morning line.
It will be the fourth mount this year for Glaser, who finished fifth with Dixie Do Good for Houghton July 27 at Laurel – her first race since Dec. 15, 2017. Before Beltway Bob, Glaser's last win came aboard Hopkins Choice Oct. 8, 2017.
A native of Bliss, N.Y., a small farming community of little more than 500 residents located about an hour southeast of Buffalo, Glaser went through a flood of emotions before her first race back.
“I was curious. I wouldn't say I was nervous,” she said. “There's not really a whole lot you can do to prepare for riding a race because there's nothing that simulates that environment. I was like, 'I wonder if it's all going to come back, or if I'm going to go out there and it's going to be like my first race all over again and I'm going to have to relearn everything.' That was kind of running through my mind, but as soon as the doors opened it was all just muscle memory, like I never left.”
It also helped that in addition to her day job, Glaser has spent a lifetime around horses – from her time as a child, through high school and eventually to spending two years in Lexington, Ky. at the North American Racing Academy (NARA), founded by retired Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron in 2006.
“Bliss a very rural area. There's a lot of dairy farms and corn and potato farming. There's a good amount of horses. I did grow up riding. I was in the local 4-H and FFA and I competed with my horses all the way through high school, mostly in barrel racing and some jumping,” Glaser said.
“Growing up, you're kind of always told as a kid, 'You can't make a living out of horses. 'There's no money in horses. You have to get a job.' So, it never really was my priority,” she added. “I was always going to love horses and hopefully always have them, but I had to get a 'real' job. Coming to the end of high school, I had to pick something to do and nothing really drew my interest. I didn't have a passion for anything other than horses.”
Fate stepped in when Glaser was researching colleges and discovered the NARA, a chance encounter that changed her life.
“My senior year of high school, when it was really getting down to crunch time for sending in applications to colleges, I happened to come across the website for Chris McCarron's school,” Glaser said. “Up until that point, I had never even thought about being a jockey. I was like, 'You know what? This feels right. I'm small. I'm competitive. I love riding horses. It just seemed like it was what I was supposed to do, so I went with it.
“They teach you everything from the ground up – from hotwalking to putting on a shank and mucking stalls and doing bandages,” she added. “They also have lectures on the racing industry and how to read a Form and condition book. There are classes on training. The brought in some babies and they taught us how to break babies. They give you the foundation to do anything.”
Glaser went to McCarron when it came time to decide on a career path. McCarron began his riding career in Maryland, winning the Eclipse Award as champion apprentice jockey in 1974, and drew from his own experience when giving offering advice.
“After I had finished and was ready to get going, I sat down with Chris and asked, 'Where do you recommend that I go? Should I start here in Kentucky, or what should I do?'” Glaser said. “He said, 'Pack up your bags, go to Maryland.' The Laurel fall meet was going to be starting soon so he said to head up there, it's really good for bug riders. So, I packed up my car and moved to Maryland.”
Glaser won in her professional debut aboard Richard Sillaman-trained Breezy Girl Oct. 24, 2014 at Laurel, finishing the year with three wins from 44 mounts. Glaser won 17 races in 2015 and set career highs with 28 wins and 315 mounts in 2016. Business slowed in 2017 to 167 mounts, including 13 wins, when Glaser decided she needed to make a change.
“There's a lot of good riders at Laurel right now. There's tons of good riders, and we all just kind of end up fighting for mounts,” Glaser said. “I got to the point where I was scraping the bottom of the barrel and I was getting a little bit sour and I just wasn't enjoying it. The reason I got into this is because I love it and I love the horses. So I was like, if I'm not enjoying this, if I'm getting on horses that I don't want to ride, then there's no point in me doing it. So, I took a step away.”
Though she worked the barns in the mornings while riding races, the break allowed Glaser to rediscover what she loved most about racing – the horses.
“I would freelance a little bit for a couple of different trainers,” she said. “I wasn't on salary with anybody, but I really love to gallop in the morning. It was something that I could never totally give up once I decided to stop riding races. I just love the connection you get with the horses when you're getting on them every day and seeing them progress and watching them learn. I could never give that up.”
Now, Glaser is enjoying the best of both worlds. She is able to spend every morning with the horses and ride races on her own terms.
“When I initially took a step away, I didn't have any intention of coming back. If you had asked me then, I would have said probably not,” Glaser said. “But, as I gave myself time and let myself kind of recoup, I decided I can come back and I can do this because I want to, because I enjoy it. I don't have to get an agent. I don't have to hustle. I don't have to get into all of these barns. I can just keep my salary job galloping and just ride to enjoy it.
“The jocks' room is great. It's really a room full of great guys and girls and it's all very supportive. We're competitive with each other, but at the end of the day, we're all playing the same game and we're there for each other. It's like a family,” she added. “I'm just kind of taking my time, day-by-day. I'm really trying to figure out what makes me happy. I just want to enjoy it.”
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