12/15/2010 4:40PM

Q&A: Greta Kuntzweiler

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JJ Zamaiko Photography

Returned to riding in June after being away more than 4 1/2 years with drug-related issues. Into this week, Kuntzweiler, 35, had ridden 35 winners from 393 mounts in 2010, including last week’s My Charmer at Turfway Park aboard Kiss Mine. This interview was conducted Dec. 12.

What kind of reception have you had from horsemen and fans, and how have those six months gone for you? It’s been awesome. I hear over and over again from trainers and fans that they’re glad that I’m back. It’s a great feeling. It feels genuine to me.

DRF received a letter from a man who claimed he lived in your apartment building when you were involved with drugs. He was very critical of you and said you didn’t deserve another chance in racing. How do you respond to people who feel this way? Everyone has their opinion. I know that addiction touches a lot of people. I know I made mistakes, and that’s one of those things that I regret – that situation in that building. All I can say is I’m doing what I’m supposed to do now. I can’t change the past. I would say I’m sorry to him. And I am sorry.

You just won the My Charmer for breeder-owner Carl Pollard and trainer David Vance for your third stakes win since your return. How are you feeling? Wonderful. In some ways I feel like I never left. But the best part is I still feel so fresh. I’m so in love with the horses I’m riding, the people I’m riding for. I adore Big Steve [agent Steve Kracjir]. I’m in a really good place mentally. This was like icing on the cake, to do it for Carl and Dave. I rode the filly’s mother [Kiss the Devil] for them, and the first stakes win of my career was on Caressing for them in the Bassinet Stakes [in 2000]. It’s all really good.

Just outside the track gates there are ample opportunities to socialize with horsemen and other racetrackers, and of course drinking and/or drugs are sometimes a part of those scenes. How do you deal with it? I don’t deal with those things. I go home, although it doesn’t bother me if I’m out to eat with someone and they’re drinking. I have a choice. I feel so good being clean. But one thing is, if you’re not around it, you’re not going to be tempted.

How often are you asked to submit to a drug test? It seems like those guys have come around about once a month, maybe a little more. They’re done randomly.

Before your comeback you talked about staying busy with art classes, boxing, exercising horses at the Skylight training center, attending 12-step meetings, and spending time at home with your boyfriend and your two dogs. Do you still have the time for that? I still go to the studio, but I haven’t been to the gym very much because of my schedule, although I still work out and run. All in all my life’s still pretty full.

Do you intend to ride in Kentucky year-round, or will you go to Oaklawn Park this winter as you did in some prior years? Steve and I just talked about that, and we’re going to stay here this year. I’ve just been riding so much, and it seems counterproductive to go down there and maybe ride just two or three a day. I’ve been riding for some great people, and I want to keep that momentum we’ve built up.

What are the biggest changes you have noticed in the Kentucky circuit compared to when you last rode in 2005? It was always five-day racing when I was here. It seems maybe there are fewer people and less racing. The Churchill fall meet was tougher this time around, I thought. There were a lot of great riders here, so things were slower for me than I remember it. The Friday nights were popular, I know, but it’s kind of hard to tell all that’s going on when you’re out there competing.

There has been quite a bit of turnover in the riding colony in Kentucky since you last rode. What are your impressions about the very best jockeys, and who in your opinion might be underrated? Julien [Leparoux] is amazing; I love watching him ride. Jamie Theriot wasn’t here before, and I like watching him ride. Rosemary [Homeister], it was great for her to be here. I really like [apprentice] Amanda Tamburello – I think she’s going to be a good little rider. She and I had great chemistry in the room together. It’s a great, strong colony, and it’s so good to be back with the guys I knew before, like Jon Court, Calvin Borel, Corey [Lanerie], and Robby [Albarado]. I got to know Garrett [Gomez] a little better, and he’s really cool.

What fellow jockeys or horsemen have had the most influence on you since your return, both personally and professionally? Amanda has been really supportive, and people like [trainer] Bill Ford. He just sticks in my mind because he believes in me so much. It makes a big difference when you ride for someone who has a lot of confidence in you.

You’ve won six races for Al Stall Jr. in your career, including at least a couple since your return. As we all know, he was the trainer of Blame. If you had a vote, who would be your Horse of the Year for 2010, Blame or Zenyatta? It’s so tough! I want to say Zenyatta because of what she’s done for racing, but it sure wouldn’t bother me if Blame won because Al is so great. He and his whole crew are so fun and professional. When I first came to track, the first horse I took care of was a horse we called Big Red for Bob Pincins, and Al was in the same barn with us. Al noticed that I was really devoted and saw how I worked, and that got my toe in the door with him.

Any goals for 2011? I want to be the leading rider at Turfway, and I want to improve my riding. I think I’m riding smart races, but aesthetically, I want to improve.