Humboldt County Fair horse racing enters final weekend; local jockey Brittany Smith boots home two winners

Mark Lourenzo

Beacon Correspondent

The Humboldt County Fair horse racing meet marked the halfway point through the scheduled dates and enters the final weekend before wrapping up this Sunday. Large crowds have supported this year's event with Aug. 17 seeing a shoulder to shoulder crowd, much to the delight of first year fair general manager and director of racing, Richard Conway.

"Things are going well, we have strong and competitive fields," Conway said midweek. "Were a little horse-poor up here, but the quality of the product is good." More horses and jockeys are on the way for the second half of the racing schedule, making things all the better for the final days of racing on the bullring at Ferndale.

Quinn Howey continued his charge to the Ferndale trainers title on Aug. 18 as his entries produced two more winners bringing his meet total to 12 victories. No other trainer is even close to those results at the midway point of the schedule. The jockey standings showed Matt Garcia, with 7 wins and 48 points, in the lead coming into Wednesday's racing. However, Garcia was injured in the sixth race and will be scratched for the remainder of the program. Jockey Chris Russell, who along with Garcia, is a former top jockey at Ferndale, was within striking distance with 40 points.

Hugo Herrera (36 points), Barrington Harvey (30 points) and Brittany Smith (15 points) follow close in the standings. Veteran jockeys of prior Ferndale meets Nikaela Black, April Boag and Shyann Garcia -- absent through the first weekend -- are expected to join the action this weekend. The feel-good story of the Ferndale meet to date has to be that of Rio Dell resident and apprentice jockey Smith.

The 22-year-old Smith, who earlier this summer gained her jockey's license in Oregon, booted home two winners on Aug. 17. Breaking her maiden at Ferndale and marking her first wins in California, Smith brought Focus Now and Old Standard to the winner's circle for horse owner Nancy Klapatch and trainer Quinn Howey.

"This is certainly the biggest thrill of my racing career so far, these will be winners' circle pictures that I will always treasure," beamed Smith after the double wins. The victories gave her five wins in her brief yet exciting two-month jockey career. A New York native, Smith now calls Humboldt County home after visiting the area nearly four years ago on a break from college.

"I came to visit for my summer break from college, bought a horse here and never went back," Smith said.

Following her desire to be around horses, Smith ventured north and worked horses for Beckner Stables in Albany, Ore.

From there, Smith gained her apprentice jockey's license and won three races at the Grants Pass event. Smith gained her start and her first win for owner/trainer Don Young when she took quarter horse Corona Legacy to the winner's circle.

"I saw Brittany working her tail off and we decided what the heck, we'll give her a chance," said Young as he watched over his horses at the Ferndale track. "She knows horses and they have to have that first chance to prove themselves."

From there, Smith scored two more wins at Grants Pass, both on thoroughbred Old Standard. Old Standard and Smith have quite the connection, with three wins to date.

Whether Smith will move on after Ferndale and ride race horses at the bigger tracks or not remains unclear.

"People ask me that every day and I'm not sure," said Smith. "I like riding the bull ring, you have to be aggressive and hustle, it is really exciting. The travel is hard, I love it so much at home, I don't know what the future is going to hold."

Whether it's working with a horse for jumping skills, turning a former race horse into a family horse or racing a thousand pound animal around the bullring, Smith will always be around the animal.

"I ride horses every day, whether it's on the race track or not," she said.

One more exciting weekend of horse races await local fans at the Humboldt County Fair. The top mule, trainer and jockey are yet to be decided and of course there is the racing finale, the 60th running of the C.J. Hindley-Humboldt County Marathon Handicap. The marathon, contested at a distance of 1 5/8 miles and runs past the grandstands four times, features a purse of $30,000 for the annual stakes race. Defending champion Falling Knife will be back for another run at the roses and distance specialist Graeme Crackerjack will be one of several entries attempting to win the prestigious event. It is a Humboldt event you don't want to miss -- see ya there!

Photo by Mark Lourenzo/Beacon

Horses are tightly bunched in the beginning of the sixth race on Aug. 18 at the Humboldt County Fair as Celestial Council (No. 5) takes the early lead under the guidance of jockey Chris Russell. Russell and his thoroughbred went on to the wire-to-wire victory with Wild Nicole (center), Brittany Smith aboard, capturing second place. As horse racing enters the final weekend in Ferndale, the trainers title, jockeys title and the C.J. Hindley-Humboldt County Marathon Handicap are all up for grabs.