09/01/2011 4:17PM

Emerald Downs: Newcomer Kubinova gets first U.S. ride

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AUBURN, Wash. – Apprentice jockey Elizka Kubinova will take the great leap Saturday when she rides in a race in the United States for the first time. She will be aboard Sassy Britches, a speedy 5-year-old mare trained by the father-and-son team of Dan and Ryan Kenney, in the fifth race at Emerald Downs, a $3,500 claimer at 5 1/2 furlongs.

Kubinova, 22, isn’t technically a novice – she rode for a brief time in her native Czech Republic – but she’s a greenhorn around Emerald Downs. She arrived last winter, galloped horses for one of the track’s leading trainers, and then showed up at the Kenney barn one day in May. Dan Kenney, jockey-turned-trainer, offered to help put her career back on the fast track.

“She came to me when I got here in May – Ryan brought her to the barn – and she’s been out here every day,” Kenney said. “She’s come a long way. She did ride 15 races over there in the Czech Republic, but she never did win, and when she got done there, she decided she didn’t want to ride anymore – 25 horses in a race, no ponies . . . I think it scared her a bit.

“She’s built up her muscle, built up her confidence. She’s been getting Sassy Britches ready to run from the time she came in here. The horse was really run down, and they built each other up together. I told her a month ago that I’ve got a lot of jockeys to the races, and maybe she could go with Sassy Britches for her first mount in America. That put a smile on her face. She said, ‘Sure, I can do that.’”

Kubinova had to pass through the usual gauntlet in the approval process – stewards, jockeys, clockers, Emerald starter Mark Gibson – before permission was granted to get on a horse in the afternoon. Her ride Saturday begins a three-mount probationary period, after which the stewards will give a thumbs up, or a thumbs down, on her immediate future. Kenney said she’s ready to roll.

“She’s good to go,” he said. “They’ve seen her over at the gate, doing a lot of work. She did a test run on Sassy – she broke and went straight as a shot, and they all said no problem. She makes ’em mind – she’s stern with the horses. I really believe there’s a strong future behind her if she gets on the right track. She’s got the desire, the weight – she’s probably 105 pounds – and the personality.”