by Katherine O. Rizzo with photos by Zane Gorove
Well before Sarah Green of Buckingham, Virginia, rode in her first race, she knew steeplechase racing was the sport for her. “I know is sounds corny, but [steeplechase] is in my blood,” she said. Coming from a family rich in steeplechase and foxhunting history, it only seemed natural that Sarah would take to the sport. What is more than natural, however, is how well she has done in the sport at such a young age.
In just three years, Sarah has entered 26 races and won 15 of them. Last year alone, at age 14, she won six times and finished second four times out of 12 starts. Now, at 15 years old, Sarah has already set her sights on the Maryland Hunt Cup, a race won by a relative in 1961. “My dad’s uncle, John Beach, co-trained the 1961 winner Simple Samson,” she explained. That goal however, will have to wait at least one more year since the National Steeplechase Association rules state jockeys must be at least 16 year old to run.
Sarah’s earliest memory of riding is falling off when she was 3 years old. She hopped right back on and eventually rode in her first pony race at age 10. In 2006, Sarah rode a pony named Stuart Little in eight pony races. She won all but one of them. North American Point-to-Point Executive Director and NSA trainer Regina Welsh was one of the many to recognize Sarah’s tallent at an early age. She said, “We actually made an exception to our age rule for the NAPPA camp a few years back since we knew [Sarah] had all the skills and ability to participate.”
A year later Sarah moved up to the horse races riding Sing and Hoist, a horse her father Steve Green trained. Steve and Sarah’s mom Jan often drive Sarah five hours to races and to train with Maryland’s top traners. “The Maryland incentives are better and Sarah wants to be close to the Maryland Hunt Cup,” said Regina.
Sing and Hoist was a “flat track failure,” according to Sarah. “My dad worked with him for a while and then handed him over to me. I’ve been working on his jumping and he’s going really well,” she added. Now 7 years old, the gelding is one of Sarah’s favorites to ride. Sarah says the horse’s personality is what makes him so great. “He is just like a little puppy. He plays with sticks out in the field. If you throw one, he will actually run after it,” she laughed.
The two have really developed a partnership that goes beyond words. Sarah feels that they have “connected or bonded so to speak on a level I didn’t know existed… he is phenomenal in so many ways. You just have to meet him to truly know what I’m talking about!”
Together they have won five times in the last two seasons over such courses as the Grand National (in the non-sanctioned races), the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Point-to-Point and the North American Point-to-Point Championships. Their first race for 2009 is scheduled to be at the Blue Ridge Hunt Point-to-Point on March 7.
Camp for Champs
Last August, Sarah attended the NAPPA Young Rider Steeplechase Camp with tuition from the Kiser Scholarship. The camp is run by Anne Hambleton and Regina. The week-long camp took six steeplechase teens around Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York to learn from some of the sport’s top trainers and jockeys. Campers even got to watch some races from the placing judges’ tower at the Oklahoma Training Track in Saratoga Springs, New York. Sarah’s reputation and skill preceded her according to Regina who said that Sarah “is known by many top timber trainers already.”
Sarah spent time at Doug Fout’s Virginia farm working with assistant trainer James Piper, who was so impressed with her skills and work ethic he wrote down her number for possible future work. Soon after that, Sarah found herself aboard champion steeplechaser Bubble Economy while spending the day with Jack Fisher. “It was a fabulous experience. I got to ride some really great horses,” Sarah said.
After the camp, Sarah spent a week interning with legendary Maryland trainer Tom Voss at his Monkton farm. “He gave me some great tips on how to ride races. He taught me a lot,” said Sarah. Every day was filled with typical barn work as well as riding. “To work with someone who has accomplished what you want to do is mind-blowing. I would not have had this opportunity if not for the Jonathan Kiser scholarship,” she added.
From there it was back to the “normal” routine, riding horses for her dad and attending classes at the Fuqua School in Farmville, Virgina where Sarah is a freshman. Balancing riding and schoolwork is “definitely a challenge,” said Sarah. “I get home from school around 4 p.m. and am usually in the barn till pretty late, sometimes 8 or 9 p.m. Then comes homework.”
Though her overall goal as a steeplechase jockey is to win the Maryland Hunt Cup, in 2009, Sarah wants “to do some bigger races [and would] like to do some actual timber races.” Regina has no doubt that Sarah will achive this goal, “she will definitely go on to ride in the [Maryland] Hunt Cup in a year or two. She is pretty fearless, which is needed to ride in that race.”
Sarah feels being awarded the Jonathan Kiser Memorial Scholarship was “very instrumental for my riding career” and could not praise the program enough.