05/31/2013 4:01PM

Emerald Downs: Cassie Papineau giving riding another go-round

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AUBURN, Wash. – Cassie Papineau was the toast of Emerald Downs back in 2009, a record-setting apprentice with a winning personality and a bright future. These days, she’s just another journeyman rider trying to land a big horse to reinvigorate her career.

But time is on her side. Papineau, who began the week with six wins from 37 mounts, is just 25 years old.

A lot has happened since her magical first season, when Papineau rode 70 winners to set an apprentice record for wins at an Emerald Downs meeting. Over the ensuing three years, she took some time off to recharge and get healthy, won a bunch of races at Turf Paradise during its 2010-11 meeting, and then paused again to have a baby. Her son, Colt, has been kicking up a storm since his arrival in June 2012.

Meanwhile, Colt’s father, Austin Richardson, is halfway around the world, an Army medic currently deployed in Afghanistan. Papineau has a lot on her plate, but she seems thrilled. She has lost more than 50 pounds since giving birth less than a year ago and said her fitness level is better now than it was in 2009. She has been riding at 118 pounds, not an unusual weight for a jockey at Emerald Downs.

Papineau rode three races in Phoenix over the winter, winning one, before heading north to Emerald Downs in March to pursue her comeback. While her arrival was met with the usual hugs and handshakes, Papineau initially had a hard time getting on horses. But she was happy.

“I got back to where I loved the sport again,” she said. “I love the sport, but when you go so hard for so long like that [in 2009] and fight your weight, it takes a lot out of you. I wanted to make sure that when I came back, I really wanted it again. So I was busting my tail at the gym, the weight was coming off, I was getting fitter and fitter, and I was just looking for someone to give me a shot. Everyone was waiting for the other guy to give me a shot. But Bonnie Jenne and Rigoberto Velasquez, they put me on a couple of good horses, gave me my first winners, and they’ve been so loyal. Bonnie threw me on the first one, and he went out and won, and they’ve all been right there.”

Papineau’s support system includes her in-laws, who moved up from Arizona and rented an apartment to help with Colt. Her father, Clark Jones, works as a jockey-room valet at Emerald Downs and gallops horses for trainer Chris Stenslie. Her mother, Cammie Papineau, is a former jockey who rode races while pregnant with Cassie some 26 years ago. Cammie Papineau stopping riding about three months in after she was thrown from a horse and nearly paid a terrible price.

“She rode with me till she was at least three months pregnant, she did,” Cassie said. “Fortunately, I wasn’t in a spot where I had to ride. My husband makes good money, and it was safer not to. I’ve got nothing against the girls who do. Sometimes they have to. I was just in a spot where I didn’t have to, so I took the time off and enjoyed being a mama, enjoyed having a baby, and got all of that out of my system. Now everyone asks me, if I have another one, if it’s a little girl will I name her Filly. I say no!”

Papineau keeps in constant contact with her husband in Afghanistan, exchanging daily messages on Skype or Facebook. She tries not to worry, but those things are easier said than done.

“After he was gone for a couple of months, I shut off my TV completely, because I had too many news channels,” Papineau said. “You know, you can’t help but worry. My little brother is in the Army, too, and he just got back from Afghanistan in November. He and Austin crossed paths, one coming and one going. It’s a constant, and you have to have faith that everything’s going to be okay. Me worrying isn’t going to make a difference. For the most part, I have faith that he’s a very smart man and he’s going to take very good care of himself.”

Papineau said she learned some important lessons during her apprenticeship, lessons that are helping her become a better jockey today. She says she hasn’t peaked yet, not even close.

“During my bug year, I got put on a lot of really nice horses,” she said. “I was fortunate. I really was set up, and I learned a lot. People don’t understand how much you learn riding good horses – they teach you how to ride, those horses. There are a lot of old class horses who know how to run a race, and you throw a bug boy on there and it will put you right in the right spot.

“When I went back to Phoenix and took my break, I started right back on the bottom. You take time off like that, people wonder. But I worked myself back up and we were winning lots of races. I think it was really good for me to have to go back through that. There’s something that brings a lot of character to a person out of a sophomore slump like that. I went back, I critiqued myself every day, I learned a lot more about how to ride a bad horse – not all of them can run. Sometimes you have to make ‘em run.”