- Associated Press - Monday, June 5, 2017

ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) - Amanda Haar is a rare element in the world of horse racing.

Not only is she a woman in the male-dominated world of horse training. She’s also just 24 years old.

“It’s tough,” Haar told the Aberdeen News (https://bit.ly/2sijFxx ). “You’re going up against a lot of guys that have anywhere from 10 to maybe around 15-to-20 years of experience. I’ve got four years, and I’m a female.”

Haar, however, is far from alone in the horse-training universe.

An Aberdeen native, Haar grew up around racing. The daughter of Bubby Haar and the younger sister of trainer Robert Haar, racing flows through her veins.

“My dad announced, trained, owned horses himself, and now he’s the president of the track here,” Amanda Haar said. “We’ve always had a passion for it.”

Running her own show since she was just 20 years old, it hasn’t always been easy for Haar. Nor is it now. She’s a petite young woman, about the height of some jockeys, and working with the massive beasts she trains can be challenging for her in ways it isn’t for her larger counterparts.

But that doesn’t hold her back; it just means she has to go about the operations a little differently.

“I don’t always have the ‘man strength’ that it takes to control (the horses) sometimes,” she said. “That’s why I’ve always hinted toward building a strong team. My groom, Jose Estrada, does a lot of the handyman work and handling things. He’s really good at listening to my instructions and how I want things done.”

If it’s tough being a woman in a largely male world, it doesn’t sound like it’s because of the people. Haar said she’s happy to learn from her more-experienced peers, and even some of the less-experienced ones.

“It’s cool because when you find other young trainers around, you kind of group together and go, ‘OK, what should I try? Because I’ve got to go up against so and so and I know I need a little extra something,’” Haar said. “So we all work together.”

Her relationship with her brother, Robert, helps, and so does her friendship with older trainers like Herman Fennell, Jr.

“I’d say (I learn a lot),” Haar said. “Especially Herman, he’s been able to give us a lot of advice on the year. Being in the stables so close next to him, he’s been really good about, ‘Hey you guys, I’ve been seeing this. Why don’t you go and try this on this one?’ And we have been doing that a little bit, and we’ve had a great year.”

Haar hits most of the upper-Midwest circuit with her horses and her family. She is pleased with the success she’s having at this point in her young career.

“Our business is only going up from here,” she said. “Especially with our finish (last Sunday). Second place in the derby. We were really thrilled. That filly’s kind of been on and off with us, and that showed she was there where she belonged. Ima Dashin Follie, she was just nosed out. I think the coolest thing was her time. She ran a 17.81, and the challenge horses at the meet here (last Sunday) ran a 17.88. And that derby should’ve been a lot slower, so to have that type of horse in her size step up there and gets second (is really great).”

Many of the riders at the Brown County Fairgrounds live somewhat nomadic lives. The road is home and family travels with them.

Not so for jockey Sam Padilla. Originally from St. John, Ariz., Padilla has put down roots.

For the Padillas, Aberdeen is home, and for the local racer, the derby was a great day.

“The races are going good,” Padilla said. “The horses are standing good in their gates, the gate crew is doing a good job, and all the horses are running good for everybody. Beautiful day because all the riders are winning some races.”

Padilla was among them, of course, winning the second race aboard Cutthroat Cutie.

“It was nice,” he said. “I jumped out in front, slowed down the pace, set a false pace, and nobody hooked me. So, on the backside I decided to open him up as much as I could.”

And if the Padilla name is familiar to the local sports aficionados, it’s not a coincidence.

“Victor Padilla, that’s my boy,” father Sam said proudly of the runner-up at 126 pounds at the State A wrestling tournament and Aberdeen Smittys second baseman and pitcher.

The younger Padilla was a senior last year at Aberdeen Central. Sam Padilla said Victor’s hoping to get a shot playing something in college. In the meantime he’s starting for the Smittys this summer.

Sam Padilla travels some with the races, though perhaps not as much as some other riders, since he works at a farm in Redfield. But as the Aberdeen contingent in the jockeys’ room, he tries to make his competitors’ stays a positive one.

“I welcome them,” Sam Padilla said. “I want them all to win races. I don’t think they’re any better than I am, though.”

The horses weren’t the only thing moving fast across the track.

There were also a pair of quick-strike storms, featuring hail and lightning at times.

The sixth race was just about to start when lightning built to the north, just as clouds in the west seemed to touch the earth. They ran the sixth anyway, but quickly thereafter evacuated the grandstand and rushed the horses inside before the second storm of the day hit the racetrack.

The hurry was not misplaced, as it was moments later that the sky opened, dumped a load of near-horizontal rain and hail on the fairgrounds. But, almost as quickly, closed back up as the sun returned.

It was bizarre. It was wet. A rail fell over on the track - requiring the assistance of various nearby spectators to right - and it was an interruption. But it was South Dakota, and the races went on.


Information from: Aberdeen American News, https://www.aberdeennews.com

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