Meet Christina Zurick
Christina Zurick, 18, is a racing fan from Lakeville, Minnesota. She has been involved in horse racing for ten years and is currently a groom/hot-walker for Gary M. Scherer at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota. Before she was a groom for Gary Scherer, she was on the radio with Dark Star doing racing analysis from 2007-2009 covering all the Triple Crown races live from Canterbury Park. She was also on TVG with Matt Carothers when TVG covered the Claiming Crown in 2008 at Canterbury. Be sure to check out her horse racing blog, Horse Racing From a Girl's Eyes, and follow her on Twitter, @ChristinaZurick.
How did you become interested in horse racing?
I became interested in racing back in 2004 all thanks to Smarty Jones and his magical Triple Crown run. I was only eight at the time; I didn't really understand all that happened that year but I found out enough to want to be involved for a long time. Smarty gave me the racing bug. After his Triple Crown run, I read everything I could about horse racing. The book “Top 100 Thoroughbreds of the 20th Century” by The Blood-Horse magazine was my Bible; I had every horse in that book memorized by pedigree, accomplishments, and pictures. I didn't fully start following the sport until 2006 when Barbaro came along and the rest, as they say, is history.
What do you love about horse racing?
That's a hard one. My usual response would be the horses, but after having been working on the backside for two, going on three years now I would have to say I just really love the track environment. It’s my second home during the summer and soon to be my real home once I graduate from high school. I just love the hope it brings to people, whether they have just a measly $2 win bet on a horse, or they own multi-million dollar racehorses. Horse racing is a sport that is magical and though it may be called the Sport of Kings, it’s really a sport for anyone, whether they are in it for a quick dollar or if they are in it for the amazing, talented and beautiful horses. It's a sport where even the blue collar can succeed at the highest levels. That is why I love horse racing.
Who are some of the people you admire in the industry and why?
Well, I have to say my number one would be Gary Scherer because he has taught me so much and has really taken me under his wing and I cannot imagine working for anyone else. Some other huge training heroes of mine would be Doug O'Neil, Bill Mott, and Shug McGaughey because I just admire the patient way they handle their horses and how they don't push them until they are absolutely ready. My jockey hero would be Mike Smith, though, as he can put horses in positions to win and take control of a race very easily.
What aspects of horse racing do you wish you knew more about?
I really just love learning anything about racing. Any chance I get I try to learn more, because I feel in any path you take, you must continue learning to stay at the top. I love all aspects of the sport and I feel I can always learn more to stay involved in the sport that I love.
What racetracks have you been to?
I have been to Canterbury Park, Churchill Downs, Belmont Park, Hoosier Park, Woodbine, Thistle Downs, and Keeneland.
What is your favorite racetrack? Why?
My favorite track would have to be Canterbury just because I've been going there since I was a baby and it's basically my second home. I know every crack and crevice to Canterbury and have spent many days working there and having fun there for eighteen years now. My other favorite part of Canterbury is the food; of all the tracks I've been to, Canterbury has the best food. I also love the family atmosphere Canterbury creates. During the summers they have Pepsi Family Day on Sundays and have a petting zoo and pony rides; it's a joy to see the little kids having so much fun at the racetrack like I did when I was little, which is the first step in creating new racing fans.
Of the racetracks you have not been to, which one do you want to visit most?
I would have say either Santa Anita or Saratoga, but I just love visiting any track because it's fun to see how different racetracks operate. Any chance I get I go to track I haven't been to before is a new adventure and a new opportunity to learn things.
What are your favorite moments in your "horse racing life" thus far?
One of my absolute favorite moments was when my favorite horse I work with, BJ' s Angel, broke her maiden in a $35,000 stakes race called the MTA Stallion Auction Lassie Stakes. She won that day by four, and after three bad luck runs, she finally broke through and proved she was a classy girl. My other favorite moment would be when I got my first win as a groom when Supremo Struckgold took home his second victory of his career. Both BJ's Angel and Supremo Struckgold are Minnesota-breds and they are both owned by a very nice gentleman named David Astar, who is one of the best owners in Minnesota simply because he tries to educate everyone in breeding and provides many facts that really help educate those interested in owning and breeding in Minnesota. As for other favorite moments, I would have to say Curlin's Breeders’ Cup Classic victory because he is my absolute favorite racehorse and the way he won that day solidified all my hopes that he would be a great racehorse.
Who are your favorite racehorses of your lifetime? Before your lifetime?
Curlin is my favorite of my lifetime; he really made me decide I wanted to get a career in horse racing. It's thanks to him I got on the radio; I called in to Dark Star's late night radio show on WCCO because they were talking about horse racing and the Kentucky Derby trail and it was the Monday or Tuesday night after Curlin won the Rebel Stakes. I called in and said how much I loved the horse, and gave my analysis of his pedigree and ability. At the time I was only twelve and still had limited knowledge, but it was enough to get me a standing gig on WCCO for the Triple Crown races from 2007-2009 before Dark Star switched to KFAN radio. As for horses before my lifetime, colt-wise I love Assault the "Clubfooted Comet" because he made the best with the hand he was dealt and reading about him when I was younger made me believe I could do anything. Filly-wise I really love Shuvee because she was tough as they come and is the only mare to win a Jockey Club Gold Cup, though she actually took two Jockey Club Gold Cups and I'm sure that record will stand for a long time coming. She was unbelievable and if you ever see pictures of her, she looks like she was made of iron.
If you could change something about the industry, what would you change?
I would change our breeding industry. To be honest, we breed to these stallions that have been injured and I personally feel that it has made our Thoroughbreds not as tough as they used to be. People nowadays in racing seem to be only in it for the quick investment instead of looking at things long term, so they breed to these horses that were brilliant two-year-olds or three-year-olds, but they got hurt and were subsequently retired and now stand for egregious stud fees when horses that had relatively long careers, and retired sound, stand for incredibly low fees like Brilliant Speed, Justin Phillip, and Richard's Kid. The sad thing is, the really classy horses like those three don't get the quality of mares like the ones who retired young due to injury just because they didn't peak at the right time.
What do you think is preventing horse racing from being a more popular sport?
Horse racing's bad rap. Everyone always focuses on the negative sides in racing and tend to lump everything in racing in a bad category when they simply just don't understand. If they even spent one minute on a backside or at a racetrack at all, they would understand that the sport is so much more than what they make it out to be. Another huge problem is communication in the sport. It's incredibly difficult to get ahold of people because they either don't have e-mail or social media and if they do, it's not published anywhere so people who are interested in either owning or working with the racehorses have a hard time finding out information.
What do you think is the most common misconception about horse racing?
The misconception that two-year-olds should not be raced. I am a firm believer in two-year-old racing because it builds better and stronger racehorses. I took a class over the summer called Groom Elite and the teacher explained to us that there was a study done at a university that showed that racing horses at a younger age was actually better for them in the long run. The study took a group of two-year-olds and started racing them at two, a group of three-year-olds and started racing them at three, and a group of four- and five-year-olds and started racing them at four and five. There were the same amount of bucked shins in all four sample groups but the horses started at three four and five had more catastrophic injuries and other non-catastrophic injuries. The reasoning behind it is that, if you run a horse at two and prepare his body for what you want him to do, because his bones are still developing, his bones will automatically adjust and be able to handle racing. Whereas you leave a horse in a field, all its bones can handle is being left in a field, not subjected to racing and once they do get subjected to that racing pressure, the bones suffer stress fractures.
How would you convince someone who is not an avid follower of horse racing to begin following the sport?
I appeal to their interests; I have gotten many of my friends interested in racing by just appealing to their interests. If they like horses, well, that's easy – just take them to the backside and introduce them to the racehorses themselves. If they just want to win money, well, I'll give them tips and help them win some money. In all actuality, who doesn't love horses or money? If you play those two things up and convince them to start learning, then they will. Other things I do is, if I see people out at the track that seem relatively confused, I try and help educate them as best as possible so that they have a better time and enjoy the track enough to come out hopefully more than once to enjoy the track.
What career do you plan to pursue in the horse racing industry?
I currently want to be a racehorse trainer and have wanted to be one since 2007. It's just a totally different thrill; knowing you were a big part of the reason why that horse won or didn't run well, the races mean so much more. Another reason I want to be a trainer is just how much fun it is to be around these amazing athletic animals day after day. You really get to know them and their personalities and it just means so much more when your horses win. When and if I ever retire, I would love to either be a jockey agent or own a small breeding operation.
How are you currently contributing to the horse racing industry?
I currently groom and hot walk for Gary Scherer at Canterbury and have my blog, which I tend to update weekly. I also try my hardest to plug the sport in Minnesota by getting anyone and everyone to come out to the track and just see what it's really all about. I also have been on WCCO Radio and TVG.
What is one thing you aspire to personally accomplish someday in the horse racing industry?
I always joke with my mother about what races I want to win, saying things like "If I win the Dubai World Cup I'll send you to the Oscars." But I would really like to win a leading trainer title at Canterbury someday just because it's my home track and I was born and raised in Minnesota and I just feel like it would be really gratifying to win a trainer title in my home state. Another thing I'd love to accomplish is to be the first female trainer to win the Kentucky Derby, but if I win the Derby I would want to win the Preakness and Belmont, too, because if I have learned anything at all in racing, it's Go Big or Go Home.