'I Know How Bad I Want This': Keithan Starting Training Career With Grit, Hard Work - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

‘I Know How Bad I Want This’: Keithan Starting Training Career With Grit, Hard Work

Rachael Keithan

Rachael Keithan can feel the skepticism as she tries to establish herself as a female trainer in what remains a male-dominated realm.

Keithan, 32, oversees a fledgling operation of seven 2-year-olds. She awakens before dawn and toils until dark as she grooms and feeds them herself due to financial constraints. She does all of this with her left ankle in a walking boot, the result of a fracture in a riding accident last September that never healed properly.

She is driven by a me-against-the-world attitude.

“It's ridiculously harder because everyone assumes just because I'm a female, I'm just going to quit and go away,” Keithan  said. “They're just waiting to see how long it is going to take. I'm not going to.

“Things are so negative here all the time, but I'm not negative. I'm positive. I know where I'm at, and where I'm going.”

Keithan looks to the example of Margie Stone, her stepmother. Stone asserted herself in other male-dominated spheres. She drove a tractor-trailer for many years before she joined the Coast Guard.

“We are a family of norm-breakers,” Stone said.

Keithan grew up in Maryland and began riding when she was five. She learned the basics by working as a hotwalker and groom at old Bowie Race Track in Maryland before she began to gallop horses. She received early lessons from John Salzman, a Maryland trainer who excels at developing juveniles, before becoming a traveling assistant to highly-regarded Christophe Clement. She gained a deeper understanding of the claiming game while she worked for Danny Gargan for the last two years before striking out on her own.

Keithan saddles a horse at Saratoga, boot and all

She owns two victories through 11 starts this year with one runner-up finish and a third-place effort for earnings of $51,380. Two horses account for her limited success. Survey (IRE), a 6-year-old gelding, finally broke through in a Jan. 27 maiden race at Tampa Bay Downs for $16,000 claimers and brought home $7,250 of a $13,350 purse. He built on his new-found confidence by taking a March 12 race for non-winners of two races lifetime to bank $8,845 of a $16,100 purse. Trainers customarily receive 10 percent of purse money in addition to their day rate.

Landslid is the most precocious of her 2-year-olds and has shown she belongs on a major circuit. After a fifth-place debut at Keeneland, she placed second and then third in maiden special weight dirt races at Belmont Park to boost her earnings to $30,600. Landslid is ready to run at Saratoga, but it has been difficult finding a suitable spot.

Through the first three weeks of the Saratoga meet, R Doc, a 2-year-old ridgling by turf star Gio Ponti, had provided her only two starts. Those were not good. In a maiden special weight race at 1 1/16 miles on the turf on July 17, he was bumped at the start and lagged seventh of nine. When he was brought back two weeks later at the same level and distance, things went from bad to worse. He was fractious at the gate and then Jalon Samuel, chasing his first win, attempted a six-wide move at the quarter pole. R Doc ran last of eight.

Keithan knew it was a reach when she left behind a basement apartment in Brooklyn to move her stable to Saratoga and rent a room outside of town.

“I didn't expect to have a superstar meet because I don't have any superstars in my barn yet. But I do know what I've got can hit the board and what I aim to accomplish,” she said. “Next year will be a different story because I will have a variety of stock.”

Despite that, she decided she had to do whatever she could to assert herself at such a demanding meet. “People assume that when you go to a lesser track, you are a lesser trainer,” she said. “I can train with all of the big boys.”

Keithan at Saratoga

She yearns for owners who will give her a shot by claiming horses for them.

“My strong suit is with the claimers and I don't have any claimers in my barn,” she said, adding, “I have relationships with people. But when you first go out on your own, everybody is a little reluctant. They want to see what you can do.”

Despite lack of financial support, she continues to scrutinize the claiming ranks, confident her opportunity will come.

“You've got to understand the breeding. You've got to understand how every barn works,” she said. “There are certain barns I won't touch because of practices they use. I pay attention to everything.”

When Keithan reaches the point of exhaustion and needs emotional encouragement, she turns to a stepmother who has known her since she was 15. Stone could not be more confident that Keithan will ultimately overcome her initial struggles and  establish herself.

“When Rachel puts her mind to doing something, she will do what it takes to get there,” Stone said. “She is an exceptionally hard worker. She gives her all when she is doing this.”

For now, she has seven horses in her barn that she describes as projects, lack of financial support and a bum ankle. She also has a dream she insists will not be denied.

“I know how bad I want this,” she said. “It's something I'm willing to fight for.”

Tom Pedulla wrote for USA Today from 1995-2012 and has been a contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Blood-Horse, America's Best Racing and other publications.

Paulick Report Icon

Receive daily headlines, breaking news alerts, promotions, and much more!

Become An Insider

Support our journalism and access bonus content on our Patreon stream

Learn More