07/25/2013 12:57PM

Exercise riders: Patti Krotenko

Barbara D. Livingston

Birthplace: Saskatchewan, Canada
Parents involved in racing? No
Favorite horse she’s ridden: Too many to choose a favorite
Favorite horse she never rode: Ruffian
Favorite jockey: John Velazquez
Favorite track: Hialeah Park

You may not even notice that Patti Krotenko rides some of Todd Pletcher’s best horses in the mornings. Like her famous boss, Krotenko is not demonstrative, going about her routine quietly and professionally. So great is her focus that, although she galloped this winter at the same track as Animal Kingdom, she never noticed him.

Krotenko has been a mainstay at the Pletcher barn for more than a decade.

“Everything there is set up and organized,” she said. “I like that. You come in and know what to do and what’s expected.”

Krotenko’s mom couldn’t have known what to expect when Krotenko began riding, at age 6, at their farm in Saskatchewan, Canada. They grew mostly grain and alfalfa but also kept almost every kind of farm animal imaginable, including pleasure horses.

Krotenko laughed when remembering her introduction to riding.

“My mom would lead the horse, jogging it,” she said. “I’d be almost straight-out on the horse, hanging on for dear life, horrified. Those were my formal riding lessons.”

The horse-crazy young girl kept at it, and by the time she was a teen, Krotenko owned a speedy Quarter Horse filly, a retired racehorse. She matched her against every neighbor’s horse she could find.

Krotenko also visited the nearby Calgary Stampede racetrack, where her older sister ponied horses. She became captivated by Thoroughbreds, yearning to ride them and be part of their world, so she bought a Thoroughbred and a saddle and settled in at the track to learn how to gallop. Trainers soon gave her a chance, and before long, she was galloping at Calgary in the summers and Arizona in the winters. She eventually sought warmer climes, and Florida – specifically, Hialeah, which Krotenko considers one of the most beautiful tracks she’s ever seen – beckoned.

Things quickly took off. In addition to Pletcher, she rode for Nick Zito and traveled to Dubai in 2003 with Harlan’s Holiday. Among the other big-name horses she rode were A P Valentine, Albert the Great, Balto Star, Speightstown, Strong Hope, Value Plus, Lion Tamer, Scat Daddy, Stay Thirsty, Life At Ten, Awesome Maria, and a mop-topped bay colt − one of her favorites − named Quality Road.

“She’s an exceptionally good rider,” Pletcher said. “She has a very reliable clock [in her head]. Over the years, she’s been our go-to rider in a lot of situations. When you need a work and you want to go in 49, she’s very, very accurate with her times. She’s a quiet person, but she’s not timid and can ride a strong horse. She’s been a really solid part of the team for a long time.”

While Krotenko’s mounts are often the center of media attention, the media is not the center of hers.

“The only time the media kind of bothers me is if they spook the horse,” she said. “That’s kind of annoying. They have the cameras on you all the time at Churchill, and you just don’t think about it – or at least I try not to. If you start letting that bother you, then it takes away from what you are doing, and that’s when you can get you or your horse hurt.”

After cleaning her tack at the end of her morning, Krotenko can’t sit around and do nothing. She bikes and walks, goes to movies, and hangs out with friends. She also collects clippings in which she is featured – although she admits to being a bit behind in doing so −and sends them to her mother.

Knowing she may not gallop horses forever, Krotenko has given outriding a try, at Gulfstream and Monmouth. She also has worked as a bookkeeper and recently took a class to learn more about it. And she has created a cookbook in her spare time, a combination of homegrown recipes and ideas spawned by various restaurants’ fare. Most, but not all, of the recipes are healthy.

“I make killer individual cheesecakes,” she said with a laugh. “I’m not much for sweets, though, so if I make them, I have to give them away.”

Morning after morning, the slim, quiet blonde hops on horses sporting a white-and-black saddlepad with the familiar initials T.A.P. and heads to the track. A small guardian angel charm is attached to her helmet and a small cross dangles from a necklace.

“I had a little angel on the necklace but he fell off,” she said. “I still have him.”

How does it feel to ride some of the country’s best racehorses?

“It really is amazing, because, oh, my gosh, I love my job,” she said. “With some of those horses, every once in a while I think, ‘Oh, I’d just love to cut them loose and really let them go.’ It’s so great because you know you have so much horse underneath you. You’d like to let them go and see how fast they can really go.”


THIS WEEK: Eric Messiah | Patti Krotenko | Carmen Rosas

PART ONE: Walter Blum | Jane Turner | Humberto Gomez

This is part 2 of DRF Weekend's two-part series on exercise riders. Click here for more behind-the-scenes photos of the featured riders at Barbara Livingston's blog.