Bracoloni works to gain horse sense

March 09, 2005|by LARRY YANOS

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Despite strong competition, jockey Natasha Bracaloni is determined to succeed at Charles Town Races & Slots.

"There's 40 riders a night and only so many races to ride," the 22-year-old Bracaloni said. "I work hard, six days a week, and I hope to make the most of my opportunities."

Bracaloni is the latest Washington County resident to join the jockey's colony at Charles Town.

The 2000 graduate of Boonsboro High School has ridden at a number of racetracks along the East Coast.

"I feel I've improved each year," Bracaloni said. "My goals are to stay healthy, keep everyone safe and win a stakes race. I always try to do my best."

In addition to Charles Town, the young jockey has competed at Laurel Park, Pimlico and Timonium in Maryland; Colonial Downs Virginia; Monmouth Park in New Jersey; Delaware Park; Mountaineer Racetrack and Gaming Resort in West Virginia and Penn National.


"I love racing. I've been on a horse since I was 2 years old," Bracaloni said. "My stepmom (Lorrie) and I would ride bareback together."

But Bracaloni's attention switched to thoroughbreds in August 2000.

"I went over to Charles Town to visit a friend. It was my first time ever at a racetrack," Bracaloni said. "I saw some people working race horses and I asked my friend about it. She said they were galloping horses. I then discovered they were getting paid for the work. That sounded good. I immediately applied and received a galloping license."

Even though she was just 18 and without racing experience, Bracaloni was hired by trainer John Lybert. Her job was to break 2-year-old horses - making them ridable and comfortable around people and the racetrack - for owner-trainer John McKee.

"It was a challenge," Bracaloni said. "I broke the babies for about a year and I learned a lot in that time. They are like children. They only know what you teach them."

Bracaloni earned a jockey's license in March 2002, leading to her first race at Penn National.

"It was May 1, 2002, and I finished second aboard Leo's Clever Trick," Bracaloni said. "I was riding pretty much full-time at Charles Town at that time and I stayed there until August when an agent called me from Maryland and encouraged me to ride there."

Bracaloni tried to ride at Charles Town and the Maryland racetracks but admitted "it was tough doing both."

Trainer Julio Cartagena, who was doing well in Maryland, used Bracaloni often until her 2002 season abruptly ended on Sept. 25 with a nasty spill at Delaware Park.

The result: A fractured vertebrea and a nine-week recovery period.

Bracaloni came back in 2003 and decided to work at Monmouth Park.

"I went to Monmouth Park when they opened on June 1," Bracaloni said. "I lost my bug in August. I rode two more races and then decided to come back to Boonsboro because I was homesick. I was getting lazy and needed a break."

Later in the year, Bracaloni stayed out of competition but worked mornings for trainer Eddie Gaudet at Bowie Race Course. She also worked for trainer Jerry Robb and owner Michael Gill.

"In January 2004, (trainer) Anthony Dutrow offered me a job and I thought it would be a great opportunity," Bracaloni said. "Sitting on stakes horses gave me a desire to return to race riding."

After regaining racing shape, Bracaloni rode at Colonial Downs to offered mixed reviews.

"I had no connections down there so I stayed in a hotel, galloped horses which paid my hotel bill, and rode some races," Bracaloni said. "I won the last race on the last night of the meeting."

On her return to Maryland, Bracaloni reunited with Cartagena.

"Julio said he was moving to Charles Town and wanted me to ride his horses," Bracaloni said. "I decided to make the move. I work horses at his farm near Charles Town most mornings and then come to the racetrack to work horses for other trainers."

Career highlights?

"I won a $35,000 allowance at Charles Town, which was exciting and I was on ESPN once," Bracaloni said. "It was the day before the Preakness in 2003 and they were showing one of the feature races of the day. My friends saw me and were surprised."

Speaking of "friends," Bracaloni says she owes a lot to her father, Umberto, and stepmother, Lorrie, for being so supportive over the years.

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