Georgina Baxter: A way of Life
By Ben Baugh
A woman whose pedigree suggested a life with horses, wasn’t encouraged to pursue what she was predestined for, but instead followed the course of her calling with a fierce passion, a palpable love that’s as charming as the smile on her face.
Georgina Baxter was born in Lambourn, England, The Valley of The Race Horse. Her grandfather on her mother’s side was a jockey and trainer; her great grandfather on her mother’s side was a steeplechase trainer and her father a prominent jockey, Geoffrey Baxter, rode against the immortal Shergar.
It was her paternal grandfather, who prior to turning to training, was a steeplechase jockey with a flat cap, who cemented his legacy by establishing a record by losing his allowance on the same horse, riding Paracutin to victory in 19 consecutive races over fences. But despite her Thoroughbred racing rich bloodlines, her family discouraged her interest in finding employment within the sport. Baxter’s mother and father met at a traffic light. Her grandfather’s brother on her mother’s side, who was also a trainer, and his son, Kevin, was killed riding over hurdles. Her grandfather on her mother’s side, after World War II, competed successfully in show jumping. Her father was put on a train when he was 15, was one of 10 children, and although he knew nothing about horses, he was told to go be a jockey because of his small stature.
“I come from a real good racing background,” said Baxter. “I was fortunate because my dad was a jockey. I had my first pony when I was 4-years-old. I always had ponies growing up. That’s all I knew. My father was like you’re not going into racing. So, I tried to deviate, but it didn’t happen.”
She sat on her first pony at the tender age of two, although she doesn’t remember him, there are pictures of her sitting on Shandie, a liver chestnut. Her exposure to the sport came at an early age. Her mother used to gallop, and the trainer used to take Baxter to the gallops. Her mother would leg her up and lead her back to the barn on a horse named Benesty.
“It was really weird, I still remember her, I can still remember the smell of her and everything,” said Baxter of Benesty. “It’s really strange. I got on a horse like five years ago, and this horse smelled like Benesty. It’s something that stuck with me.”
Starting her Journey
However, the pony she learned to ride on when she was 4-years-old, made an indelible impression, his name was Tommy.
“I had a little black pony; I never really wanted to ride, I was too big,” said Baxter. “I thought I was going to be small enough, but I grew. I’m like 5-foot 8 ½.”
But some things are meant to be, and Baxter’s fate as a horsewoman wouldn’t be denied by any outside force, her passion being far greater than any restrictive suggestion that thoroughbred racing wouldn’t be part of her future. The Power of love was far greater than any discouraging word.
“It’s like a drug, you try to get away from it, but it always pulls you back; it’s not like it’s a job, it’s like a lifestyle,” said Baxter.
Traveling the Globe
The opportunity to be introduced to the lifestyle of being involved with the Thoroughbred industry was something Baxter experienced from a young age, with her dad riding in a number of countries during the winter months, from November through March, finding her in India, Trinidad and Tobago and in Barbados. She had the opportunity to be around a lot of prominent horseman, including Walter Swinburn in India, spending a great deal of time when she was young with the jockey’s father Walter and his mother Doreen.
She enjoyed the opportunity to learn about other cultures, and the value of travel at a young age.
“I Had a Mars bar, somebody bought me a Mars bar, English chocolate was so prestigious over there (India),” said Baxter. “He said I could go watch E.T. in exchange for the Mars bar (laughing). That was currency.”
Growing up in the Industry
One of the horsewoman’s most prized possessions is a race card from the Darby, Shergar’s victory, a race where her father finished third, signed by every jockey.
Steve Cauthen, Willie Carson and Pat Eddery were frequent visitors to the house, and Cauthen would often go to Geoff Baxter’s home to use his sauna. Carson would often share a car ride with her father to go to the races.
“Mum said, when I would go to the races, Pat Eddery would always sit me on his knee,” said Baxter. “I just grew up around these people.”
At the age of 18, Baxter rode in a point-to-point race, against riders far more experienced, demonstrating her poise, competence and horsemanship.
A heart-to-heart conversation with her mother, who voiced her displeasure with the thought of her daughter riding over jumps, found the future Thoroughbred trainer directing her energies toward horses, but as a veterinary assistant, a job she worked for 2 ½-years, but there was a fierce burning desire that had fueled her spirit. As fate would have it, she would find herself at John Porter’s yard, doing rehabilitation work, and destiny would find the facility turning into a point-to-point stable, as if a stronger force was intervening.
“I went to work for a point-to-point trainer, it was my first job with horses, they did therapy there too,” said Baxter. “I went from being a vet’s assistant to the therapy side of it, the acupuncture. They had therapy machines and a water treadmill. I went there and it kind of turned into a point-to-point barn when I was there.“
An Early Victory
However, one of the most unsettling and disquieting experiences for Baxter’s mother took place, when her daughter rode in a point-to-point race, where the commentator was even on edge, holding his breath at the jumps because the horse seemed to be completely in control of their destiny.
“They gave me a horse to ride, Lordy Boy, he was an old horse, he was washed up,” said Baxter. “He was an okay jumper. They thought, ‘Let’s give her a spin.’ I was only 18 or 19 at the time. I shouldn’t have been riding over jumps. I was too young. The first ride, I really didn’t know what I was doing. The second ride, he just ran off with me and ended up winning. He literally ran off with me. I won a race.
“I just sat there like a passenger, he was literally taking off outside the wings. I mean my mum was a nervous wreck. It was her birthday, March 19. Everybody was gasping, and there was this one horse that kept taking off, and I can remember, I was like, ‘Well this is amazing.’ When I got back, they were like, ‘Jesus Christ. That was really scary to watch. ‘ But because I knew no better, I didn’t interfere with him. He jumped like a stag the whole way. We won. That was my second ride. So, I had a few more rides. I had to stop riding him. I was going to have a fall or an accident. I knew the old horse. He eventually retired.”
Defining her Future
And she would find herself going to work for one of the sport’s colorful personalities, a man whose love for the sport was as palpable on as many levels as hers, and whose influence still resonates today through his sons, but he’s most remembered for the longshot named Frankincensce, a horse he wagered on at 66-1, while he was a stable lad, allowing him to realize his dreams including the purchase of South Bank Stables.
“I went to work for Barry Hills, the head of the Hills dynasty, he produced John Hills the trainer, Charles Hills the trainer, Rich Hills the jockey, Mike Hills the jockey,” said Baxter. “I worked for him for 4 ½ years. I was an assistant to him. We had more than 100 horses, so I had a good foundation. I used to babysit George Hills. I knew Hills through my dad.”
A Sojourn to the Middle East
These initial encounters would lead to experiences even the world’s most accomplished horseman would be envious of. Baxter rode as an exercise rider for the legendary Michael Stoute and at Dunlop. And she would go to Dubai and work for Bill Mather, who was an integral part in the development of Nad-Al Sheba Stables during its nascent stages, and then when he retired, the trainer who would assume the reins would play an integral role in Baxter’s future. Baxter’s father had worked for Mather at Bruce Hobbes’ yard.
It was 1999 when Baxter arrived in Dubai, staying until 2004, spending 4 ½ years in the United Arab Emirates. It was while working for Bill Mather, whom she worked for a year, Peter Brette, who had been Mather’s assistant took over the reins from Mather, having been the champion jockey in Dubai.
The opportunity to ride again presented itself when she was working for Brette.
“He didn’t even tell me he was going to put me on a horse,” said Baxter. “It was an amateur ride because there were a lot of amateur races over there.”
Brette was persistent in asking for Baxter’s passport photo and the next week she found herself entered on a horse, but what happened next surprised any number of people including the rider.
“They put me on a 5-year-old horse that had never won in his life; it was knee high to grasshoppers and he was carrying 78 kilos,” said Baxter. “So, I walked into the paddock, and Erwan Charpy says to Peter Brette, ‘That’s cruel. You can’t put 78 kilos on that horse.’ It was my first ride on the flat, so I jump out, they never saw me. I won by four or five lengths. Peter Brette looked to the trainer and said, ‘How cruel was that.’”
Baxter would score consecutive victories on the horse named High Regard, who was by Nashwan, and the gelding had never found the winner’s circle prior to that time until the Lady from Lambourn was in the irons.
“The next race they put Kieren Fallon on him, and he finished last,” said Baxter. “When that horse retired, we actually bought him and sent him off to be a little kids riding pony. We were worried about what might happen to him, and sent him off to be a riding pony. Me, Peter and a couple of other people that knew the horse bought into him, and he went off to be a show jumper. He was so small he was a kids’ show jumper.”
For someone who never had the ambition to ride, she found herself in the irons sometimes twice a night in Dubai, riding in the amateur races. Baxter had the opportunity to ride against the nation’s royal family.
“The princes used to like riding, so I used to ride against Sheikh Rashid,” said Baxter. “We became like friends. It was a good experience. Amateurs don’t get the chance to ride the caliber of horse we were riding.”
Baxter worked for Brette for 3 ½ years, and when he left the UAE, he invited her to work in the United States.
“I said, ‘Okay,’” said Baxter. “But I did a little deviant tour, I went to Australia, but I finally got here. I lived with him (Brette) and his wife and their son Nicholas, for six months when I first got here (when she first came to the United States). A lot of Europeans go to Dubai, So, that didn’t take a lot. I knew the system. Australia, I never really got the system. It takes a while because everything is different there.
“Everywhere you go, you learn something, even if it’s a bad place you learn something from it,” said Baxter. “It was a wonderful experience to travel. Then after Dubai, I came back and went to Australia, and again they do things differently. One of my best friends used to gallop Winx. I met him while I was galloping for Barry Hills. I was in Australia for four months.”
“When I went to the States, I had come over with a visa, but I when I came over I didn’t have my address written down because Peter Brette didn’t give it to me,” said Baxter. “They denied me a visa. They would have put me on the plane straight back home. They only let me in with holiday visa, but I had a visa. So, then I got lippy with them and they were going to deny me.”
The meeting with Brette would be a propitious one, yielding unique opportunities for the horsewoman, who when she was a young girl found herself riding several unruly ponies, whose strength provided her with a solid foundation early.
“They’re the ones who teach you to ride, they always said I didn’t ride like a show jumper, I rode like a jockey,” said Baxter. “I think I just like going fast. My father was trying deviate me away from racing.”
Arriving in the States
Baxter found herself in the barn of Thoroughbred trainer Michael Matz when she first came to the United States, and with that experience came the chance to ride a horse that captured the nation’s imagination.
“One of the first horses I galloped when I got over here was Barbaro,” said Baxter. “It was unbelievable to work for someone like Michael Matz and go on that journey.”
However, the aftermath of the 2006 Preakness still resonates with Baxter, who was part of Team Matz, when a life-transforming event happened that deeply resonates with every Thoroughbred racing fan, but especially with those who were part of Barbaro’s family.
“When something like that happens, what happened to Barbaro, you just don’t want to get on another horse, it guts you,” said Baxter.
A Taste of Training
After leaving Matz, Baxter went to work for conditioner Eddie Kenneally, along side of Brendan Walsh, where she got to work with several talented stakes winners. She was the regular rider for Kelly’s Landing.
“I was there for a long time too, when he went to Saratoga, I used to run the barn at Churchill (Downs),” said Baxter. “I was always down as a rider because riding was my passion. I was always more than just a rider. We had the likes of Kelly’s Landing and Bush Fire.”
The Opportunity to Ride Some of the Best
Good fortune and timing seem to follow Baxter, and when she went to work for Al Stall at the Fair Grounds. She had the opportunity to breeze the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame on several occasions and Star Guitar.
“To sit on those horses, it was like, ‘Oh my God.’ It was such a pleasure,” said Baxter.
She also had the opportunity to ride Aspire (IRE), who ran in the Breeders’ Cup, going out with the horse to Santa Anita, an atmosphere Baxter described as amazing.
Trying Something New
However, Baxter’s riding wasn’t just relegated to the flat, she found herself transitioning to another form of racing in the states.
“I did ride over timber,” said Baxter. “My first timber fence was in my first timber race. (I asked myself) ‘why is this horse popping?’ It was like it was trying to refuse. By about the third fence, I realized it was marking the fence to pop it. I’m used to going over fences, when you can brush through them. You can’t with Timber. He was slowing himself to jump it. It was 2008. I used to ride a horse called Okie Dokie Smokey. I rode against the girls, the ladies race. I only rode a handful of races. I hadn’t done it before. I had a couple of rides. I wanted to try it. I rode over fences, on the flat and timber.”
Father Knows Best
It was some sage advice from someone who certainly possessed the experience and could speak with authority on the subject that Baxter listened to intently; adhering to those tenets as she made her way into a world she thought she wouldn’t be a part of.
“My dad’s instructions when I rode on the flat, ‘I asked Dad, what do I do?’ His first instructions were, ‘Don’t forget to breathe.’ It was actually good advice. I did my first breeze with my dad. He taught me to ride. It was tiring. It happened so fast. It gives you an opportunity to appreciate the split second decisions that you have to make out there, looking around, having awareness on your horse. There’s so much more to it.”
A Unique Individual
And although she’s now taking on additional responsibility as a trainer, it’s Baxter’s palpable enthusiasm and passion for Thoroughbred racing and riding that leaves an indelible impression on any one she engages in conversation. It’s her genuine depth that makes her a refreshing spirit and it’s an innate part of her character that makes her unique.
“Riding is something you enjoy doing, when you’re riding, it’s hard to describe,” said Baxter. “It doesn’t matter what’s going on in your life, when it’s just you and your horse out there, you’re free. I never knew what other people in racing got out of it because I was so transfixed on the riding part of it. That’s what I enjoy. I still enjoy it. I get on all of my own horses. I ride like 10 or 11 a day.”
Moving onto Another Phase of Her Life
Baxter had been offered horses before, with owners asking her to take four or five horses previously, but she wasn’t interested. However, it was when she relocated to Florida that the right opportunity presented itself. It was while she was working for Kirk Ziadie, taking over the barn from Kirk’s father Ralph, that she accepted the chance in 2018 because the circumstances that had been presented were of greater gravitas. She has been with the barn for six years.
“When you’re in a barn, the people you’re with, are your family, they’re not just employees,” said Baxter, who had taken her trainer’s test years before. “It was the only way I could keep the barn together. I’ve been with these people for six years. They were all going to lose their jobs. The horses were going to be dispersed. The only way to keep that together was for me to step up. I was like okay, ‘I’ll do it.’
“People don’t understand, that’s your family, people sacrifice so much for the industry. You talk to 90 percent of the women and they don’t have families, they don’t have children because they travel and they don’t settle. Their life is their horses, this is their family. Most of them are single. The horses and the people working in your barn are your family. We get up at 4 o’clock in the morning. When you get up at 4 o’clock in the morning, their (partners) are like, ‘I don’t like it when they wake up and they’re not there.’ It’s easier for a man to have a family and do it. The hours are extreme. It’s a lifestyle choice. I have no regrets. It’s a way of life. It’s not about the money.”
A World Apart
The transition to the racetrack in the United States was markedly different from what she had experienced in the U.K. because they’re conditioned in a different environment. In England, the horses train up hill, it’s very quiet and they’re more relaxed, said Baxter.
“Here (the United States) it’s very tense, you have to take everything into account,” said Baxter. “You have to know the tenses of training here. You walk for half an hour to a track. It’s like on-off, on-off. In England and Dubai, you ride four horses. Here, it’s like 10 or 11 a day. You spend an hour on them in England; you spend 15 minutes on them in the U.S.”
Changes and Transitions
There were a series of adjustments for Baxter when she first came to the United States, and her experiences evolved over time. But it was when she went to work for Eddie Kenneally, that the transition became easier because of the commonalities associated with what she knew and his training style.
“With him being Irish, he understood,” said Baxter. “When he was in Saratoga, I used to work his string in Churchill. He could communicate the way I knew how to communicate. A lot of Europeans actually go to him, Brendan (Walsh), we all went there. You learn a lot and it teaches you a lot, the differences.”
However, training was far from what Baxter had ever envisioned for herself. The lifestyle she had grown accustomed to found her going home at 10 a.m. every morning, and putting the previous part of the day behind her. She had always accepted a larger role in the barn, so additional responsibility was nothing new to the horsewoman. When the opportunity did present itself she was ready to assume the role despite the challenges associated with taking over a barn, where there were some previous questions regarding overages associated with the previous trainer.
“It’s always nice to go home and relax, but my main concern was that this is your family, so do I step up, the only person in position to step up and save everybody from losing their jobs. These people have been together for years. Even before I came here, there are horses who’ve been in this barn for seven years. We have a barn full of them, and they’ve known them since they were babies…this is your way of life, you really don’t think about it. You just do it. It’s hard. It’s way harder than I thought it would be. I was thinking, ‘If I run a barn, how hard can it be. It’s really not that difficult.’ The horses are the easy part. It’s the people and politics that are the most difficult part.”
The frenetic pace associated with the industry leaves little free time for Baxter as she constantly finds herself immersed in a profession whose variables are constantly moving.
“Even when you go home, it never stops; there’s always something to do, and your mind is always thinking about something,” said Baxter. “It’s never at rest. I definitely know why Bob Baffert is gray. I have gray hairs. There’s always something going on in your head about the next day. That’s why I love to ride because when you’re out on a horse, you’re totally at peace.”
A deep roster of owners and horses can be found in Baxter’s barn, an important factor in any thoroughbred trainer’s success. One of the things she learned from Kirk Ziadie was that happy horses win races. Horses like to run, said Baxter.
“The owners like to win races and that’s due to them,” said Baxter. ‘If you don’t have those people who are willing to do that, it makes it harder. Rich Averill, Matties partnership and Midwest now, we have a good team, and like I said, they like to win races, it makes life easier.”
The Midas Touch
But there was one horse in particular that transformed Baxter’s life markedly, playing a significant role in the current chapter of her life, a chestnut gelding by Wildcat Heir, bred by Brent and Crystal Fernung and owned by Matties Racing Stable LLC and Averill Racing LLC, the 9-year-old gelding Pay Any Price, who set the North American record and World record for five furlongs on the turf, covering the distance in 53.61 on March 11, 2017 at Gulfstream Park, an eight times stakes winner, is a horse that has become synonymous with excellence.
“I think it was because of him I got the job because Pay Any Price had a horrible reputation,” said Baxter. “He was really bad, a rogue horse, couldn’t train him. My previous boss claimed him, and he (Pay Any Price) was a disaster. We couldn’t even walk him around the shedrow. This horse is crazy, he’s going to hurt somebody. Me, as the main rider, my boss said, ‘I don’t want to risk you. You’re too valuable.’”
Baxter watched a number of people come into the barn, but Pay Any Price proved to be too much of a handful, until one day she received a phone call and was asked to get on the horse.
“I said, ‘Okay, I’ll give it a try,’” said Baxter. “Anyone can ride a horse, but you have to ride their brain. Every horse is different. I got him going, and then he went on to be successful. It made people sit up and take notice. I think that’s the horse that changed everything, so much for me.”
Pay Any Price and Baxter are inseparable, and to this day, she’s the only one who rides the challenging chestnut gelding, and does so with an unrivaled competence and proficiency. It’s her ability to engage and communicate with the horse that has created a bond of inexorable respect that no other horseman has been able to replicate.
“We tried to put somebody else on him,” said Baxter. “I’m lucky he picked me. As I said, he’s just an amazing horse. He’s superfast and holds the track record at Gulfstream. He actually holds the world record and we’re trying to get that registered at the moment. Pay Any Price is as crazy as a mad monkey. He doesn’t fit into the norm of other horses. I can’t do what you do with a normal horse because he’s not normal. His brain thinks differently.”
Stakes Winning Talent
However, Pay Any Price is far from the only stakes horse in the barn. Midwest Thoroughbreds’ dark bay son of Pomeroy, out of the Holy Bull mare Soi Distant, the multiple stakes winner Quijote is among the charges that Baxter has the opportunity to work with daily.
“We were given him as a project, ‘take this horse and see how you do,’’ said Baxter. “I kind of knew that race was going to be really fast (the 2019 Sunshine Millions Sprint Stakes, which he won). The race suited him, and everything worked out for the race.”
Life in the Fast Lane
It’s been with sprinters that Baxter has found her greatest success, and there’s a deep correlation between the barn’s success and the horses going short both on the dirt and turf.
A Stunning Starlet who Blossomed over Time
One of those horses just recently demonstrated her prowess, by defeating the boys in a race that had been originally carded for the turf, one that Pay Any Price had been pointed toward, and the barn had captured in consecutive years, making it the third straight time the same owners had won the Bob Umphrey Turf Stakes, taking it with Pay Any Price in 2017 and 2018. It was the second stakes win of the month for Lady’s Island, a 5-year-old daughter of Greatness, as she destroyed the field in the Nicole’s Dream Stakes, winning authoritatively by nine-lengths, also over an offtrack, with all five of her victories in 2019 coming over sloppy and muddy surfaces.
“Lady’s Island, that was Rich (Averill),” said Baxter. “Rich said, ‘We have this really fast filly.’ We do really good with speed. We train outside the box. We train for speed and do things different.”
Lady’s Island has a proclivity for running on off tracks and her victory in the Bob Umphrey Stakes was far from an anomaly.
“She’s the Queen of the Slop, it you look at her form before, I think she’s 5-7 in the slop,” said Baxter. “We claimed her for $16,000. I was up in the box with Richard Averill, and he said, ‘I’ve got another fast one for you Georgina. I’m claiming a filly, okay.’ And he did, he claimed her. He liked her. He’s good at picking horses, anything with speed. He’s a speed figure man.”
The mare has continued to impress, winning decisively at Saratoga in a six furlong starter allowance race authoritatively by 13 ¼-lengths, covering the distance in 108.54. It was the sixth victory in seven starts in 2019 for Lady’s Island.
When she came to the barn, the filly was tall and thin, a nervous sort, full of anxiety and could be found routinely walking the box, when she arrived in Baxter’s barn. She would sweat black when she went to the track.
“We gave her time, and that’s the main thing,” said Baxter. “When you claim a horse, people run them straight back. If you think they’re good, you have to let them develop, do something different. So we calmed her down and relaxed her. We put on some weight, and then slowly. She got stronger, filled out and it shows in her racing. She’s always been tall and lean, but that’s why she’s improved. She put on a lot of weight. She now fills the frame and is very imposing.”
The filly’s first start for her new connections suggested that she needed a bit more time, but has blossomed to rival Pay Any Price as star of the barn.
“We went back and sorted her out, it doesn’t happen overnight,” said Baxter. “We’ve had horses run, they come back and they run these huge figures, and people say, ‘You must be doing something.’ But the thing is, if you actually look at the time we took between the races, it can be over six months before we run them again. Other people run them back in two weeks and wonder why…we do a different training program. We work them out.”
Lady’s Island has six wins and one second from seven starts in 2019, and throughout her career has shown her ability to run on any kind of surface, adapting to the elements and the conditions.
“When horses like to run (Pay Any Price and Lady’s Island), they can run on anything,” said Baxter. “They say good horses can run on anything, it’s true. It’s more of a disadvantage to the others. It bothers them more than it does her. She’s run on the grass for us. She ran in the Claiming Crown and only got beat by a couple of lengths. She’s put on so much weight since then. She’s developed more.”
Working with sprinters is nothing new to Baxter. She has a long history with horses that have excelled at the shorter distances.
“Even in England, I used to ride a good horse, Royal Applause, he’s a sire now,” said Baxter. “I always loved the distance horses, but I always ended up with the sprinters.”
Authenticity and Depth
But it’s Baxter’s passion and enthusiasm for the sport, her genuine love of the horse and visceral sensibilities that separates her from other trainers. Her emotion resonates palpably, with an unmatched authenticity whose endearing quality is as deep as her character.
It’s that romance with certain horses, those spirits who’ve captured enthusiasts’, horsemen and handicappers’ imagination that have touched a chord with Baxter.
“When I was growing up, there was a horse called Desert Orchid, he was white and had the heart of a lion,” said Baxter, visibly visceral, with her emotion touching those around her. “He captured the heart of a nation. Everyone went to the racetrack to watch him. Everyone watched him on TV. He was the horse that brought everyone together.”
Passion, persistence, dedication and an unwavering commitment to the horses in her care, are prevailing characteristics, Baxter’s love for the horse is perceptible and undeniable. She is an ambassador for the sport, and her enthusiasm is infectious and palpable.
“It’s great to win those big races, but money isn’t everything,” said Baxter. “To get some interest in the sport, you have to have a passion. Sometimes it takes a story to get that passion. I know at Laurel they had Ben’s Cat…like Pay Any Price here (at Gulfstream Park). You never know what he’s going to do. That’s the kind of horse I like, the ones that touch your heart, like the Seabiscuit story.
“Zenyatta was amazing. People followed her and rooted for her. Happy Valentine, Star Guitar, there are those horses that give you more. Pay any Price is a rags to riches story. Everyone was rooting for him. Anyone who ignites your fire, that’s what I want.”
Pay Any Price once ran for an $8,000 tag at Tampa Bay Downs, and now is an eight-times stakes winner, those are the kind of horses who inspire you and keep you on the edge of your seat, said Baxter.
“I watched old videos of Seabiscuit, the number of people that went out to see him, it was during the depression, just to give people hope,” said Baxter. “This is an amazing sport, a lifestyle. It gets you like a drug.”
Respect and Relationships
Averill and Baxter have a great rapport, and complement each other with their strengths, with Baxter the horseman, and Averill the handicapper, who also has a great understanding of condition books, and selects the races the horses run in.
“Every time I go to enter a horse, he calls me a clown,” said Baxter. “He says,’ I don’t know what I’m talking about.’ We have that kind of humor relationship with each other.”
A Change in Scenery
Baxter is no stranger to Gulfstream, having routinely gone to South Florida for the winters, and she made the decision to stay the first summer when the facility began racing year round.
“The fact that you don’t have to move is amazing,” said Baxter. “Moving is traumatic, when you were doing the circuit, Kentucky, here. I like it (being at Gulfstream all year round). At least you have some stability. People are so fed up with moving, but they do it because of the love; the love of their horses. If your horse is going to Kentucky, you want to go with it. When you ride this horse every day, you love it.”
A Caring Heart
It’s Baxter’s genuine authenticity, a quality that’s more than powerful resonating not only through her soul, but that of the people she’s talking with, when she describes a rider’s relationship with a horse. The depth of her character manifests itself in such a way that it touches even the most difficult to reach, with a passion that’s uncommon and extraordinary.
“For someone working so closely with horses, it’s more of the love, it’s not about the business or the money,” said Baxter. “You see that girl that rides out every day, she loves that horse. The people who are watching don’t realize; we love those horses; sometimes I’m in tears before a race when a horse of mine runs and there’s a good chance of the horse being claimed. We love these horses. they’re a part of you. When you’re around a horse for four or five years, they’re like your pet dog. It’s like giving your dog away. It breaks your heart. I know you have to look at it as a business. I’m in it for the love; not money. I love the sport. I love the horses and people.”
A Love Story
One horse in particular won Baxter’s heart, Mr. Baker, a Florida-bred son of Imperialism, the roan ridgling set a track record at Calder Race Course, who dropped through the ranks, breaking the horsewoman’s heart. She wept copious tears every time he raced, wondering whether or not she would have the opportunity to be around him again. However, the story does have a happy ending. Mr. Baker is now Baxter’s lead pony.
Finding Her Calling
It’s the sport’s unique subculture and its intriguing backstories that have made an impact on Baxter’s career and life, something she holds with great esteem and remains steadfastly passionate about.
“You go on the backside, you have grooms and the next minute you’re talking to multi-millionaires,” said Baxter. “It’s so diverse back there. It brings everybody together.”
However, life with its constant vagaries has seen Baxter’s fortune undergo an inspirational transformation since assuming the role as the stable’s trainer. Baxter never foresaw herself being a conditioner, but is thankful for the chance and has seized the opportunity to make the most of out of it.
“We have a lot of Florida-breds. We’ve improved the quality of the horses,” said Baxter. But to me, the cheap horses are as nice as the expensive ones. I’ve winged my life. I’m still winging it. As long as I still love the game, have the passion for it; I’m fine with that, loving the game and the horses. People don’t realize how much these horses are loved. These horses are so well-looked after and loved. I probably have a different outlook than most people. It’s not about the money. We come from England; we have tradition. I just hope this country realizes how precious this is before it’s lost before it’s too late. It’s a way of life.”
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