Spotlight On: Jazmin Arnold

Ohio-based horsewoman reflects on her award-winning season on the amateur circuit

Jazmin “The Little Flower” Arnold is a fourth-generation horsewoman who initially wanted a career in professional softball. She was coaxed into amateur driving by her boyfriend, trainer Adam Short, last year and it turned out to be an outstanding move.

After starting out in Ohio country fairs, Arnold enjoyed great success after joining the CKG Billings Amateur Driving Series. She raced at 26 different venues in 2019 and won 23 of 59 starts with 10 seconds and five thirds, good for $53,394. Arnold, who turned 26 in March, was honored with the USHWA Amateur Driver of the Year Award, becoming just the second woman to ever win the prize. An Ohio transplant from Illinois, she graciously took time from her stable chores to talk with Hoof Beats’ Rich Fisher about her career and memorable 2019 season.

HB: OK, let’s start with the most important question: Why are you the Little Flower?

Arnold: Amateur Driver of the Year committeeman John Manzi names all of us in amateurs. Why he came up with that I have no idea. He interviewed me in November, and I didn’t ask. But we’ve always gone with it and it really has stuck.

HB: What flower would you prefer to be?

Arnold: I think I would like to be a daisy. Fresh as a little daisy.

HB: OK then, Little Daisy, so now that you’ve had time to digest and reflect on last season, is what you did even more impressive to you now than when it was actually happening?

Arnold: Without a doubt. When I look back on it, I didn’t think I had that many starts, and I didn’t think I had that many wins. You look back and look at the numbers and it’s very impressive. Not a lot of people do that. But I just took it race by race. But when you look back on it, it’s huge.

HB: It was your first year driving. Was the workload pretty rigorous?

Arnold: It was very exhausting. I worked for Adam as a groom. So, I’ve got a barn full of 10 horses that I take care of every day. Those horses also go to the races. I have to get horses ready throughout the week and then on race day, but we also penciled in me going to the fairs. A huge thanks to [Adam]. He stayed at the pari-mutuel tracks; he didn’t go to the fair races anymore until (last) year. He was kind of my sidekick through everything. He and my dad (Larry Finn) really helped balance everything out with who could ship me and who helped me get on and off the track.

It was very stressful, to be honest with you. But I would do it again this year if I could. I can’t say the same for them. They’re probably sick of me. Probably halfway in (last year), they were like, “Are we done yet?”

HB: You raced on 26 different tracks. Was it a lot of traveling?

Arnold: I traveled quite a bit. I did most of the fairs at home [in Xenia, Ohio]. I’m kind of in the center of everything. I went to quite a few up north—Paulding and fairs up there. Karen Tkaczyk put a horse (ER Maria) in for a couple of the Ladies Series for me. Those are about three hours from home. So, you get done with the work during the day and then you drive three hours to go drive one horse and you’re driving three hours back home.

HB: Did things get more intense after you entered the Billings Series?

Arnold: Yes, they really did.

HB: How did that start?

Arnold: My best friend and I went to West Virginia for a vacation. We met (trainer) Herman Hagerman at the West Virginia State Fair. I’d known him for a couple years.

I asked him to let me drive a trotter. He was like, “Pfft, any one you want to drive, you drive it.” So he put me on a trotter. I got my first win the first time I’d ever driven a trotter in a race. I was talking to him about the Billings and told him I would love to drive in that. There were no questions asked. He said, “Get me the schedule and I’ll get you some horses.” Ever since then, he would say, “Are you ready for this week? Do you want one or do you want two?”

HB: You were quoted as saying Herman Hagerman was the best guy to drive for. Why is that?

Arnold: He really is. My dad and Adam—they’re family and they always want to do the best.

Everybody wants to win, obviously, and Herman never put that pressure on me. He would always tell me, “Hey, whatever happens, happens. Go have fun.” When I drove in the Gold Cup at The Meadows, that was the biggest purse I’ve ever driven for [$25,000]. Before I went on to the track, Herman said, “Hey, just treat it like a qualifier.” I looked at him and my mouth dropped, I said, “Are you crazy?” and he’s like, “No, I’m serious.” He’s really good from that aspect.

Anytime I ask him what he wants me to do, he says, “Hey, you’re the driver.” That’s kind of tough for me because I like instructions. I’m driving his horses and he has to answer to those owners, I don’t. So, I ask him what to do and he says, “Whatever,” and I’m like “Ohhhkay.”

HB: What other horses do you drive besides Herman’s?

Arnold: I have one mare I train (5-year-old pacer Knockout Queen). I’ll drive her here and there. My uncle, Mike Arnold, will put me on a couple. My dad and Adam will put me on a couple here and there. Herman is my main pari-mutuel mount.

HB: So, we are having this talk a few days after the Dan Patch Awards dinner. What was that experience like for you, being among so many of the greats in the business?

Arnold: It’s hard to explain. It was very nerve-wracking. I know all those people. They’re all famous; you hear about them all the time. It really kicks in when they call you up and you’re like, “Oh man, Jimmy Takter was just up here, Timmy Tetrick just got two awards. Everyone’s here. They’re all going to hear me.” It was a little nerve-wracking, but once I got up there, I spoke from the heart. I felt that was the best thing I could do.

HB: You’re only the second woman to win the amateur driver award. What does that mean to you?

Arnold: I thought that was a huge accomplishment. When I started out driving at the fairs, everybody always dreams big, right? But I would have never thought it was me. I never expected it. When I got that phone call, I was like, “Is this real? Are you being serious?” And they said, “Yeah, we are dead serious.”

I was actually cleaning stalls and they said, “Are you busy?” I said, “It depends. What do you need?” Then they told me, and I was super excited. Everybody at the farm was like, “Wow, you’re not even gonna be able to get in your car. Your head is gonna be so big.”

HB: And after you got that great news, you had to go back to cleaning stalls, right?

Arnold: Yes, and when we came home from Florida, it was snowing back home. I was like, “Man, welcome back to reality.”

HB: Was there a point last year you started to think “Hey, I might be pretty good at this?” Or was it just a slow, gradual process?

Arnold: I just wanted to drive. It’s always nice to win. You do your best, you put out your best effort and the horse is a big object, too. I was very fortunate that I got to drive some very, very nice horses. All the trainers involved did a wonderful job. It was a slow grind. I just kept going and going.

When I had my driving double at Northfield I thought, “This is awesome, who would have ever thought I would have a driving double?” The next week the same thing happened. I had another driving double that week as well. At that point, I was like, “This is fun.”

HB: It’s fun, and you realized “I’m pretty good at this.”

Arnold: Yes, and my grandfather (Iowa Hall of Famer Mike Arnold) always calls and says, “Hey, that was a hell of a drive.” Or he’ll call me and go, “What were you thinking?” I tell him we all have those days.

HB: You are part of a female wave of drivers starting to make an impact in Ohio. How cool is it to be part of all that?

Arnold: It’s super fun. All the girls I drove with last year—everybody’s new to it. We had a couple new girls in the series this year. They jogged a little bit. They are caretakers, but it’s always great to get someone else out there. You can help them on and off the track.

HB: A lot of young girls are going out there. Do you try to get them hooked early?

Arnold: Oh yeah, without a doubt. We’ll tell the younger people, “Hey, you want to come to the paddock, come see the horses, come see the equipment, watch the way we do things?” Just that little bit may intrigue someone where they think maybe they want to do it on the side, which we all know that this isn’t a side job or a hobby by any means. But it’s nice for them to come and see what we do on a day-to-day basis.

HB: Let’s go back to your formative days. You trained your first horse in the race bike at 8. Do you remember that?

Arnold: I remember it like it was yesterday. It was great. Honestly, it was awesome. I was always the little helper in the barn if you will. I would clean stalls and get the horses ready. The easy ones I could jog and train. Dad would say, “All right, you’re going with this one next.” I’m like, “Wait a minute, I have three more stalls” and he said, “Jazmin, jog cart, race bike. Let’s go.”

He kind of urged me, but I started from the ground up, cleaning stalls. When I was younger, I’d ask my grandpa to let me jog one on my own and he’d say, “Nope, we got more stalls. We gotta get these things rolling.”

My grandpa never really wanted me in the race bike or the jog cart. My dad was always the one saying if I want to go train them, then go ahead. I think I proved to my grandpa last year I could do it. He was with me in Delaware when I won the (Lady Pace) final and he was at a couple county fairs when I won a couple trot races. He’s probably one of the biggest fans. He’ll always call me after the races. He’ll criticize, but not in a bad way.

HB: So, were you athletic? Did you play any sports or anything like that in high school?

Arnold: Yes, I was very athletic, actually. I played softball; I played all the way up to my junior year and tore my ACL. I had a couple scholarships in line and due to that injury, they were withdrawn.

HB: How tough was that?

Arnold: It was pretty depressing because that’s what I wanted to do. I played a lot of travel softball. We went to a bunch of places. I thought, “I think I can play pro softball; this would be great.” I was always intrigued with the horses, but I always liked to play ball. After that happened, I thought I better get back to the books.

I went to Lakeland Community College for two years and went to a vet tech college called Fox College Institute. I actually worked as a vet technician at Woodland Run Equine Clinic (in Grove City, Ohio) for about six years. We worked around the racehorses every day and I just missed it.

HB: You and (fellow driver) Alesha Binkley were inseparable buddies during summers in your childhood. Were horses a big bonding thing for you guys back then?

Arnold: Yes, they were. Both of our parents always went to the races. So instead of getting babysitters, we kind of watched ourselves. They would bring us to the races, and it was always just us.

HB: Did you ever in your wildest dreams think you’d be racing against each other in your 20s?

Arnold: No shot. No way. It’s super awesome. A lot of the people back home saw us grow up. They tell us all the time now, “We can’t believe it. You two were little rug rats, running around like brats and here you are doing big things.”

HB: You are good friends, but you go at it hard against each other, right?

Arnold: We definitely do that. It’s usually cut-throat on the track with those amateur drivers. It is what it is, but when you get off the track, everybody’s friends. But if I was to get beat by somebody, I would rather it be her than anyone else.

HB: How did you get from Illinois to Ohio?

Arnold: My grandpa helped me out. I told him I wanted to work with horses and specialize with horses. “Who do we know, what can I do?” The racing in Illinois was on the downhill slide and he said, “We gotta get you out of here. We’ll find something.”

(Veterinarian) Rick Mather was a client of his. Grandpa said, “Hey, my granddaughter is going to school. Can she come intern there?” Rick said, “Without a doubt. Send her my way. We’ll get her a place to live, get her all set up.” I think I had a six-month internship there and they hired me the day before I was going to leave. That was super, super awesome. That was in 2017 or 2018.

HB: You had two drives in both 2013 and 2014 and nothing again until 2019. What were those four races about? What were you—bored on those days or something?

Arnold: Yes. I was playing a lot of softball over the summer. The county fairs that were super close to us had amateur races. My dad said, “Do you want to do it?” I was like, “Heck yeah, I train all the time; I’d love to drive.” Softball interfered with some of the other fairs, but he found the ones that were at home on weekdays. So, we got some horses and it was a go.

HB: But it didn’t make you want to make a go of it then?

Arnold: It was fun, but I liked training a lot more than I liked driving back then. That was a little different. When I train, I learn. If I don’t feel like I’m learning something every day, I don’t feel like I’m doing something.

HB: So how did you and Adam meet?

Arnold: We met about four years ago. He was actually at the same farm that my dad was, and I would go down there and jog and train with my dad after work. We were all in the same barn. You’d go to dinner, go to lunch, help out in the barn and it escalated from there. We’ve been dating about two years.

HB: How did he talk you into driving?

Arnold: I know this sounds super weird, but he would watch me on the track when I trained for my dad. He would always encourage me to do it. He was always very pushy, saying, “Hey, you need to do it. Go try it. What’s it going to hurt?”

HB: Did you think he was nuts?

Arnold: Yes. I’m like, “You’re crazy. Are you trying to make fun of me?” We all joke around and I’m like, “Are you making some kind of joke or what?”

HB: Well, it looks like he was right.

Arnold: Yes, he was. Don’t tell him that though.

HB: How nice is it to train with your boyfriend?

Arnold: When you live with someone and work with someone, it’s obviously tough. But I feel like we leave the barn at the barn. If we get in a little scuffle at the barn, in two minutes, it’s over. We’re at home and I’m like, “Hey, what do you want for dinner?” Our lives surround the barn all the time. I feel we do a very good job of that. We get along for the most part. Everybody has their little scuffles. I’m not going to hide that. Nobody’s life is perfect.

HB: So, tell me about Knockout Queen. What are your hopes for her?

Arnold: I love her so much. She’s honestly the best thing that’s ever fallen in my lap. She’s amazing. She’s won five or six for me. She’s going to race this year. She had some R&R. I took a vacation for Dan Patch and I thought she deserved the same.

HB: So, what does your future hold. Is there a temptation to go professional?

Arnold: I’m very content with what I’m doing right now. My main focus is the mare. I want to take care of her and do the best I can for her. She comes first over my career in driving. I feel like I’ll be more successful training her than taking off driving.

HB: Is training more in your future than driving?

Arnold: Probably a little bit of both. I’m not going to give it all the way up. But she’s my main focus.

HB: So, if I asked you where you see yourself in 15 years, you probably would not have an answer.

Arnold: No, I don’t even know what I’m doing tomorrow.

Rich Fisher is a freelance writer living in New Jersey. To comment on this story, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

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