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Out of the Gates: Youngest female jockey in the West off to good start

Amelia Hauschild, age 16, greets her horse before her first professional race. (Photo by Jordan Glenn / Arizona Sonora News)

PHOENIX — As the Sunday morning sunshine illuminates the turf at one of America’s oldest horse racetracks, jockeys of all ages walk their horses along the rows of stables and prepare for the completion they look forward to every weekend.

On Jan. 22, though, one name is on everyone’s mind: Amelia Hauschild.

As the morning commotion continues, the Tucson jockey walks through her morning warmup followed by camera crews and a barrage of friendly banter from other jockeys.

At 16, Amelia is one of the youngest female jockeys on the West Coast — and that specific date was her first race as a professional.

In a predominantly male sport, Hauschild and the handful of other females at the Turf Paradise racetrack in Phoenix compete alongside veterans of the sport, edging toward the finish line and a larger prize.

“Being the youngest benefits me in terms of my career because it means I have more time to work and gain experience but it’s also really hard because everybody says, ‘You don’t know anything,’ and they doubt your abilities,” Hauschild said.

The horses and speed of the races fascinated Amelia early in life when she watched at Tucson’s Rillito Park racetrack. It was only when Amelia and her mom, Heidi, ran into a former jockey in a Costco who offered to train her, did her dream receive the jump start it needed.

Former jockey Floyd Campbell, now 65, remembers his then 6-year-old fan well.

“She always told me she was going be a jockey,” Campbell said. “She used to come to the races in Tucson every year dressed up as a jockey and we would take pictures together back when I was still racing.”

With the time of her first race closing in, Amelia sat in the jockey’s locker room at Turf Paradise, focused and going through the tips she gathered from months of preparation and travel.

Putting her education on hold during her junior year at Tucson High School, the young athlete traveled to New Mexico and moved out of her mother’s house in Tucson to be a full-time apprentice at Turf Paradise.

“Being in New Mexico was a good experience but there was a big difference in the relationships and respect among jockeys, owners and trainers,” Hauschild said. “I was one of the only females exercising, galloping and working horses over there which was tough because it was a very male-dominated environment.”

While her daughter suited up for the race, Heidi gathers with her friends and family in the stands, anticipating the moment she can see Amelia emerge from the locker-room tunnel.

For the single mother, family and friends have made the hardships of her daughter’s career easier. Often only seeing Amelia every other weekend, Heidi has had to accept her daughter’s independence, admitting that, “She is who she is and I don’t take credit for it. She’s just a very self-directed person.”

While Amelia seems numb to the hype around the race, Heidi finds it hard to contain her emotion.

“I’m more nervous that she is,” Heidi said. “More than anything I just hope she and everyone else on the track is safe.”

Dressed in a bright red jacket, Amelia’s legs swing over the chocolate colored horse, mounting the saddle with a strong look of focus and calm.

In the background, the large Jumbotron displays Amelia’s chances of winning and the bets placed on her and her horse, Nadie Sash — 3-1 odds and more than 1,353 counting on her to win.

In what seemed like an eternity of silence, the starting gates occupied by five other jockeys flung open and the announcer’s voice filled the stadium with energy.

Anticipation turned to nervousness for Heidi. Video screens in the stands showed Amelia’s rough break as her horse slams against the side of the starting-gate wall.

“In the moment, I didn’t really know exactly what was happening because it happens so fast in the gates … my first instinct was just to get (Natty Sash) out at that point,” Hauschild said. “Luckily I knew that we had a place to go on the inside rail and we could make up time.”

Coming into the final stretch of the track, Amelia pulled toward the front of the pack, driven to make up what she’s lost. With only one jockey, her trainer, in her way, she crossed the finish line toward a cheering crowd.

In her first professional race, Hauschild finished in second place. Her competitors were almost three times her age.

Greeted by a proud mother and ecstatic friends, Amelia only had one thing on her mind: “I should have won.”

As the other jockeys made their way to the locker room, people curious about the 16-year-old jockey that morning now put her name at the top of their list. A constant stream of congratulations and admiration greet Amelia and her trainer across the track.

While Amelia still has a long way to go in her training to becoming one of the top jockeys, she verified that her professional career can be as good as the rest of them.

Within days of her exciting first race, Amelia was back on the track, determined to work her way up to California, where the top jockeys compete.

“It’s very old school and male-dominated there, but it’s a place that I’m familiar with and have a lot of connections,” Hauschild said. “So if I’m going to work hard, I might as well work hard somewhere toward the top.”

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Jordan Glenn is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at jglenn4@email.arizona.edu