By William Carter

Athlete. When the term comes to mind one doesn’t automatically think of horses and their jockeys. Canterbury Park, Minnesota, is home to the beloved sport of horse racing. The athletes here compete and strategically prepare to come out on top. 

Heats of horses race by, jockeys mounting each horse pushing them, motivating them, until they cross the finish line and see the flash. Between that starting bell and that finish line, nothing else matters. The cheering of the fans is lost to the blissful sound of hooves pounding the turf. Being as close as I was to the track I could see the focus a jockey needs is essential, but great focus only comes along with great preparation. 

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Jockeys themselves have physical preparation, crafting themselves into the perfect mold. Dean Butler, a jockey at the track, trains like any athlete.

“You go through the race and see where your horse likes to lay. It’s like watching replays of horses you’ve never ridden before. It’s a strategic type of thing,” Butler said.

Butler takes the time to study “racing form,” which gives all the metrics and info about the horse.

Even for the horses, media relations manager Jeff Maday states that it “takes them 12 weeks or so to get fit again, just slow training, just like an athlete. They’ll have more aggressive workouts leading up to before the race.” 

Athletes aren’t always a singular entity but can take the form of a working unit. Some see tandems all across sports achieve greatness, from the splash brothers Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to the quarterback and wide receiver combo of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. One can’t win without the other showing they need each other to prepare at their best. 

Comparable to a quarterback studying weeks worth of game film to prepare for an upcoming opponent, a jockey studies just as hard. Figuring out every factor that makes their horse tick, their habits and struggles in order to become a collective unit. Horse racing deserves to be in the conversation when thinking of athletes. 

Preparation is what athletes need to perform at their best. Hours of strategic preparation sharpen their skills and craft, transforming their bodies into a tool for success. For athletes to be best prepared, they train hard, study diligently, and make the mind and body work as one. 

Much like a horse can’t win a race without its jockey, horses have to go through training and conditioning to run a race just as a football player would need to condition for the upcoming season. 

They train, prepare, and most importantly compete for what they desire most. Winning.