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Past the Grandstand

Racing's Future: Jade Cunningham

Jade Cunningham
Photo: Mary Cage

20-year-old Jade Cunningham is originally from Nashville, Tennessee, where all her family lives, and now resides in Oklahoma. She started on the racetrack at age 12, and her love for racehorses came a couple years after that. She is currently in school working to obtain a bachelor’s degree in communications. Last summer, she worked as an assistant trainer for Danny Pish at Lone Star Park.

How did you become interested in horse racing?

It was a complete accident, actually. My sister wanted to become a jockey so my mom started driving us from Tennessee to the Thoroughbred Training Center in Lexington, Kentucky and my mom ended up buying a horse, which she then started training. I absolutely hated the track when we first started coming around but as I got older and was able to become more involved with the horses themselves, I fell in love with the sport.

What do you love about horse racing?

I think first and foremost I love the horses; I get very possessive over the horses I gallop.

What career are you pursuing in the horse racing industry?


Why have you chosen to pursue that career?

I have always had a desire to train horses; I just didn’t know I would have the desire to train racehorses! Out of all the jobs I have had on the track, training is the one I feel most comfortable doing and at the same time, it challenges me.

How are you currently pursuing that career?

Danny Pish has been an amazing help in me pursuing this career. Last summer, I assistant trained for him at Lone Star Park and at Remington Park before I started the fall semester in college. Until I get out of college I plan to continue to learn under other trainers.

Who are some of the people you admire in the industry and why?

When I had the opportunity to go to the 2016 Breeders’ Cup with Texas Chrome and the J.R. Caldwell team, we were stabled in the barn with Todd Pletcher. He was always in the barn either giving interviews, watching replays, looking at condition books, or doing hands-on jobs on his horses. I admire trainers that don’t just hire an assistant and no longer do any of the hands-on work themselves.

What aspects of horse racing do you wish you knew more about?

I find myself to be interested in the media side of things. I find it amazing the difference in the crowd at Remington Park for the Quarter Horse meet as opposed to the Thoroughbred meet and I wonder if it’s due to advertising.

What racetracks have you been to?

Apparently the first track I ever went to was Oaklawn Park but to be honest I don’t remember going. The ones I do remember are: Ellis Park, Turfway Park, Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Charles Town, Fonner Park, Horsemen’s Park, State Fair Park in Lincoln, NE, Ag Park in Columbus, NE, Sam Houston Race Park, Lone Star Park, Retama Park, Will Rogers Downs, Louisiana Downs, Fair Grounds Race Course, Delta Downs, Remington Park, and Santa Anita.

What is your favorite racetrack? Why?

I have a hard time picking my favorite because most all of them have good memories associated with them. I loved Santa Anita and Churchill but I was only at both places a short period of time, so I think right now Lone Star holds a special place in my heart. I always say Texas air smells different than any other state and I think that’s one reason I like it so much.

Of the racetracks you have not been to, which one do you want to visit most?


What are your favorite moments in your “horse racing life” thus far?

I have so many. Of course, being at the 2016 Breeders’ Cup when Arrogate won was amazing, along with the first time Texas Chrome stepped on the Santa Anita racecourse with me on his back. I think my absolute favorite moment in my horse racing life was, in the first year I started galloping, I had the privilege of galloping a filly named Pyro Jo into a race. No one else had galloped her for a month but me, and she broke her maiden that day. It was a claiming $12,500 OK-Bred but I thought we had won the Kentucky Derby.

Who are your favorite racehorses of your lifetime? Before your lifetime?

Arrogate is an amazing horse to watch but my favorite racehorse of my lifetime is a filly Danny Pish trained by the name of I Am Jane Dough; she won the Richard King Stakes at Sam Houston (against the boys) in 2016. She is my favorite horse I have ever galloped and I really enjoyed her personality. I honestly don’t have a favorite before my lifetime.

If you could change something about the industry, what would you change?

I think a little more consideration should be given when allowing personnel to receive licenses. I think it’s important to make sure jockeys are safe riders and trainers are capable of putting the horse’s safety first.

What do you think is preventing horse racing from being a more popular sport?

Again I think it partly goes back to what I said earlier about advertising. I think advertising is very important and I think local Texas and Oklahoma tracks could improve in this area. I also think that racetrackers themselves don’t help the cause too much. For example, when something on the “dark side” of horse racing comes up (because everything has a dark side in this world), racetracks don’t keep it private; they feel the need to share it on the Internet and if we don’t support our own sport, why would others?

What do you think is the most common misconception about horse racing?

That the horses aren’t cared for. I love this sport for the horses. I like when a horse comes back from winning a race and is proud of themselves. Most of the horses that race actually love their job.

How would you convince someone who is not an avid follower of horse racing to begin following the sport?

I’m not too sure about “convincing” someone but I think people that have a misconception of the track should have an opportunity to see what goes on inside the backside’s fence so I like to invite people to the races and take them to the barn and show them around.

How are you currently contributing to the horse racing industry?

I’m not as involved in promoting the track as much as I one day would like to be. After the 2017 spring semester, I will be in Dallas galloping again, trying to learn as much as I can before I have the opportunity to go out on my own.

What is one thing you aspire to personally accomplish someday in the horse racing industry?

I would love to be the first woman trainer to win the Kentucky Derby. Unless another woman beats me to it; I will settle for second. 


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About Mary Cage


Mary with champion Classic Empire

Mary Cage, a 21-year-old avid fan of horse racing, has been around horses all her life, having owned, shown, and judged them for as long as she can remember. She began writing her own horse racing blog, Past the Grandstand, in August 2011 and has since been published in America's Horse, American Racehorse and the Appaloosa Journal, as well as with the websites of The Blood-Horse and The Equine Chronicle. She has also had photos published with Paulick Report and Thoroughbred Daily News. In addition, she works as one of the social media coordinators for the Texas Thoroughbred Association and has interned at WinStar Farm with a marketing focus - with projects involving photography, videography, giving tours, data entry, etc. 

In her personal horse experience, Mary has been around horses all her life and has won several Appaloosa National Champion and Reserve World Champion titles in the show ring. She has also worked as a hotwalker and groom.

Mary has always aspired to have a career with horses and since her love for horse racing began, she has dreamed of pursuing a career in the Thoroughbred racing industry, possibly as a writer/photographer and marketing/communications specialist. She is currently attending the University of North Texas, where she is a journalism major with a concentration in advertising and a minor in marketing. With this blog, she hopes to show readers horse racing through the eyes of a young fan and transport you to some of racing's biggest events through her photos and words.

University of Louisville College of Business Equine Program

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