By Katherine Rizzo (First appeared in March 2018 issue of The Equiery)
It seems that the Brophy family of Fair Hill has produced yet another young jump jockey who possesses not only great riding skills, but also excellent horsemanship, sportsmanship, talent, and dedication to the sport of steeplechase racing. These are the requirements for the Maryland Steeplechase Association’s Jonathan Kiser Memorial Scholarship, and in 2017 Ella Brophy became the second Brophy child to win this award. “I feel really honored to have been chosen,” said Ella. “It is nice to know that people in this sport think highly of my horsemanship and dedication.” Ella’s older brother John won in 2015.
Like many junior jockeys, Ella grew up in the saddle, riding ponies in the hunt field with Cheshire and River Hills before beginning to race in 2010. Her first race was in the Small Pony division at Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds Point to Point in March of 2010. She rode her own pinto pony Sugar Booger and was trained by her mom Laura Brophy. Laura taught herself to ride early in life and went on to teach others as well as train young horses. That first year, Ella and Sugar Booger ran fourth twice and fifth once, and even though Ella never won a race that season, she was hooked.
“I just seemed to grow into it. From pony races at first to the field master chases this past year,” she said.
Ella’s first win came aboard Phoebe Fisher’s black mare Frisky Business at Cheshire in 2011. Ella was still running in the small pony divisions in 2011 and 2012 before doing her first Jr. Field Master’s Chase at the Maryland Junior Hunt Cup in April of 2012. She and Frisky Business finished last, but this did not discourage Ella at all. “I just really love the steeplechase community and all of the people involved. Being around all those supportive people makes me want to stay a part of the sport.”
In 2013, Ella took over the ride of Prince Caspian from her brother. Together, Ella and the medium chestnut pony won at Cheshire, Brandywine and Fair Hill. The following two years, Ella primarily rode Modernly Millie. The large pony was first raced by John, and Ella found success with her in 2014 and 2015, winning several Junior Field Master’s Chases, including the Large Pony division at the Maryland Junior Hunt Cup in 2015 and the 2014 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Junior Field Master’s Chase. Millie was sold to the Fenwick family and continues to win with Tommy Fenwick in the irons.
After taking a break from racing in 2016 due to a concussion right before the season began, Ella was finished with ponies and ready to take on the junior horse races. Enter the Thoroughbred Squeaky Ceci.
The 2008 mare by Lycius, out of the Deputed Testamony mare, Nutn But the Truth, had not much success on the flat track, running primarily in claiming races, winning twice and earning only $21,630 in her two years racing. Owned by Mouse House Farm, she then was transitioned to hurdles where John finished third at Potomac in the Maiden Hurdle in 2016. Despite being a fabulous jumper, the mare just didn’t want to be a hurdle horse and the owners had decided to sell her as a foxhunter. “I started riding her to hunt and just have fun with her,” Ella said. But then the spring steeplechase season started to approach and Ella asked to ride her at Green Spring. “My stepfather, Brooke Boyer, trains her and we just felt really great together,” Ella added. “Green Spring was the highlight of my season with her as everything just came together and she felt great. I really enjoyed riding her and was looking forward to the rest of the season.”
At Green Spring that April, the pair won the Junior Field Master’s Chase. Ella had an unfortunate fall at Fair Hill, but came back at the Grand National to finish second. They ended the season winning at the Maryland Junior Hunt Cup. For Ella, it is not the wins that make steeplechasing so much fun, it is the overall experience of the sport. “For me, it is the experience that has been so important. Even when I had to sit out that one season, I went to every race and helped out on the side,” she said. “I’ve always felt so welcomed in this sport.”
When the spring season had ended, and MSA awards were handed out (did we mention Ella won the Junior Rider on a Horse title?), Ella’s learning experience was not over. “Brooke was able to set me up to ride for Kelly Rubley at the Fair Hill Training Center for the summer,” she explained. “She taught me so much and really trusted me and took a chance on me. I really appreciate everything she taught me.”
As we get started for the 2018 Maryland steeplechase season to begin, Ella is unsure about what her racing future has to offer. “I just switched schools and I’m a junior at McDonogh boarding school, and I’m already looking into colleges and such,” she said adding that no matter what, she knows she wants to stay a part of the racing community. “That is what is so great about the community, I can take a year or two off and still know I’ll be welcomed back.” Ella also runs cross-country, mainly to keep fit for racing but says, “nothing beats horses!”