06/14/2017 3:40PM

Clawson finds her footing close to home

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Linscott Photography
Through Tuesday, Katie Clawson is the leading rider at Indiana Grand's current meet.

It’s fair to say that Katie Clawson did not begin her career as a jockey last year with a flourish.

At the Keeneland meet last October, Clawson rode one winner from 24 mounts. At Churchill in November, she went 2 for 41.

“I always thought she was ‘can’t miss,’ ” said trainer Tom Amoss, for whom Clawson had worked as an exercise rider before obtaining a jockey’s license last summer. “A lot of people were making fun of me.”

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Things were not much better for Clawson at Oaklawn early this year: She rode just eight winners from 116 starters at that meet. Then Clawson moved her tack to Indiana Grand in May, and she has found her groove.

Through Tuesday’s card, Clawson had a 33-18-11 record from 141 mounts, and she was the leading jockey at the meet, nine wins in front of newcomer Deshawn Parker.

“I didn’t think I would be leading rider, but I thought I had a very good shot of doing well this meet,” said Clawson, reached Monday by phone.

Clawson, 20, graduated from a seven-pound apprentice to a five-pound bug last weekend. Her move to Indiana Grand was in essence a move back home. Clawson was born in Arizona but grew up in Brazil, Ind., about an hour southwest of Indiana Grand.

“I made the choice of where to go for the summer based on where I thought I could be top five in the standings,” said Clawson, whose agent is Jimmy McNerney. “Obviously, I know people here. Being close to home, it seemed like a great place to spend my summer.”

Clawson’s family had nothing to do with racing, and she said that watching Zenyatta as a child had given her the itch to ride. At 15, determined to become a jockey, she began working at Indiana-based trainer Steve Fosdick’s farm, getting used to galloping horses. Clawson had ridden some pleasure horses but had a lot to learn about Thoroughbreds.

“It was a learning curve for sure,” she said. “I spent all winter getting used to that. They were patient with me and helped me so much that winter and then the following winter. When I was 17, I got my first exercise license.”

Clawson worked as an exercise rider for Fosdick and Mike Lauer at Indiana, for Amoss in Kentucky and at Delta Downs, and for Kellyn Gorder, who put her on her first mount as a jockey last summer. Two summers ago, while galloping for Amoss, a horse bolted on the turn and threw her into the fence. Clawson broke her fifth vertebra and a rib and bruised her lung.

“It was kind of the first eye-opening experience for me,” she said. “I hadn’t been hurt before – maybe kicked or stepped on – and it was my first experience that showed me what can happen. I had the time off to really think about it, but I see it as really a blessing in disguise. I could’ve kept galloping, or I could have quit, and I decided to keep going.”

Clawson decided to go back home this summer to Indiana Grand, and that is working out better than anyone might have imagined.

◗ Genaro Garcia has been on a roll for weeks and through Tuesday led the Indiana Grand training standings with 16 wins. John Haran, who for years struggled to win races at a 10 percent clip, has a 20 percent strike rate at the meet and 12 wins, one more than third-place Cipriano Contreras. Contreras, a former longtime assistant in Chicago to trainer Mike Reavis, went out on his own last year and had a strong 2016 Indiana Grand meet.

◗ Elegant Model is the 2-1 morning-line favorite to win the featured race 7 on Friday’s card, but this group of Indiana-bred older female route horses appears to be closely matched at the top.