09/30/2011 11:58AM

Fort Erie: Young jockey Janine Smith seems to have found a home

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FORT ERIE, Ontario – Apprentice jockey Janine Smith, 23, has come a long way from her home on tiny Denman Island in the Pacific Ocean to the border oval at Fort Erie.

The island, not far from Vancouver Island, was where Smith had her first lessons in riding. She was 4 years old and sitting on her pony.

“I guess that started it all,” said Smith, “and I was hooked again as a kid when my mom took me to Hastings racetrack in Vancouver during the Pacific National Exhibition. Later I spent lots of time sitting on an English saddle and doing dressage before decided that riding Thoroughbreds was to be my goal.”

Smith’s teenage years were spent in school on Vancouver Island where she planned her next move: Attending Olds College.

“I had heard of the Olds school in Alberta, just north of Calgary, where there was a three-month agriculture course centered on horses and riding, so that is where I headed,” said Smith. “As it happened, Real Simard, who rides here and at Woodbine, was one of the instructors.”

Smith continued her education at Stampede Park in Calgary and then Northlands Park in Edmonton.

“I did every job imaginable – grooming, hotwalking, cleaning stalls, and galloping,” she said. “In the winters, I headed down to Payson Park to gallop and then last year spent time working at Turf Paradise in Phoenix.”

While in Alberta, Smith gained her jockey’s license and had some racing action on the smaller tracks in Lethbridge and Grande Prairie, climbing aboard 15 Thoroughbred mounts and winning three races on those bullrings.

“Last year, in midsummer, I decided to try Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg and rode a few winners there before heading south in the fall,” said Smith.

Krista Carignan, leading rider at the Fort last season, is a good friend of Smith’s and called to suggest she move her tack to Ontario.

“It was good advice and I’ve enjoyed the Fort,” she said. “I am lucky to have Scotty Lane as my agent. “

Smith still makes the odd journey back to Winnipeg, where this year she had 16 mounts, winning on three of them.

Smith has 12 wins this season at the Fort, a 9 percent win mark. She has ridden her share of longshots, and one of them was the 5-year-old gelding Sabino, who won his first turf start here this year at odds of 68-1.

“I rode Sabino in a dirt sprint prior to the win and thought he would go better with a route of ground,” said Smith. “In that winning turf race we were far back, but he responded when asked and rallied willingly inside. It was a nice surprise for me and the trainer, Michael Bennett.”

Smith plans to return to the Fort next year.

Meanwhile, her plans for the winter are still open. But she has an optimistic outlook.

“Things will work out just fine,” she said. “They always do.”

◗ A farmers market will be held at the Fort every Sunday in October. Vendors are open for business at 11 a.m.

◗ Quarter Horse racing begins next Saturday with post time at 12:45 p.m.