DEL MAR, Calif.— We close out this season of Stable Notes with a story about longshots and an aspiring young trainer taking a shot at the big time. The epitome of a small-time conditioner and her fledgling Thoroughbred operation.
Thirty-two-year-old Rachel Keithan is from Maryland. She gave Del Mar a try this summer. While it wasn’t all champagne and roses, she didn’t leave without some success.
“I’m just trying tracks out right now,” Keithan’s says. “We’re going to Remington next. New Mexico is one I’m never going back to. They’re too fast out there for me. Everything wants to sprint, and I have a lot of horses that like to go long.”
One of those is R Doc, a 3-year-old gelded son of Gio Ponti who gave Keithan her one and only win at the meet at 35-1.
“He’s a thousand dollar no bid,” Keithan says. “That’s the bottom bid in Kentucky for Fasig-Tipton. Nobody wanted him. When I got him as a yearling, I originally retired him, but he wanted to run so I put him back in training. This horse has been against everybody’s odds everywhere. He’s bred for the turf top and bottom, but he doesn’t want to run on the turf. First time off turf, he wins.”
That was a maiden race at Aqueduct in January. After trips to Sunland Park and Lone Star, he went out August 18 and won a $32,000 claimer locally giving Keithan her first trip to the Del Mar winner’s circle. She says the fact she’s at Del Mar this year is all coincidence.
“Relentless Racing and I, we didn’t start out with a lot of capital,” Keithan says. “I couldn’t work for anybody else because I had a broken ankle for a very long time and nobody’s going to hire somebody with a broken ankle. So we took a little bit of money and went to the sale. I realized nobody would want to train these no-bid horses, so I put my two cents in and here we are.”
Keithan has a string of nine horses, all of which she rides and trains in the morning.
“I can tell you when they’re ready,” Keithan says. “I can tell you if they feel good.”
While being on the back of your own horses can be a certain advantage, there are drawbacks to having such a small operation.
“You have to train for the condition book and if the race comes up before you’re ready sometimes you just gotta go,” she says. “Cross your fingers because you don’t have time to get one more work in. We have to run. We’re a barn where they (the horses) have to pay their own bills, or we’ll go under.”
Keithan says the Del Mar meet has been quite an eye-opener.
Rvindicated was second by a half-length to Cool Your Jets on Sept. 1 at Del Mar.
“It was a sharp learning curve,” she notes. “This is my first time out west. I’m an east coaster. I assisted people in New York and went from New York to Kentucky to Florida. When we were in New York we ran all the smaller circuits too. If we had something that wouldn’t do at Belmont, we’d ship it to Maryland, to Delaware, to Pennsylvania. I’ve won races for trainers at Monmouth. You’re very open when you’re in that area. Here, there’s California tracks and everything else is a big haul. East coast I’ve got it down, West Coast, you guys are fast out here.”
She says she’ll return to Del Mar under one condition.
“I need different stock,” Keithan says. “I know when I’m outmatched.”
Keithan has taken her horses to Oklahoma City where she’s going to give Remington Park a try.
DMTC Press Release
Photo of Rachel Keithan by Susie Raisher