03/08/2012 2:55PM

Q&A: Havre de Grace exercise rider Jen Brasser

Alexander Barkoff
Jen Brasser, on Havre de Grace (right) in a Monday workout, became the mare’s exercise rider this winter.

The exercise rider for Havre de Grace, the 2011 Horse of the Year, who is scheduled to make her first start of 2012 in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes at Fair Grounds on March 17. Brasser was interviewed recently at Fair Grounds.

Birthdate: Nov. 4, 1983, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Family: Single

Got into racing because . . . When I was young we lived in Belgium, next door to a racehorse trainer. That got me started. I loved it, the atmosphere, everything. I rode hunter-jumpers, was in pony club. We came to the United States when I was 15. My dad had a job where we moved a lot, working for an oil company. We lived in Maryland, north of Baltimore. I started galloping horses for Tom Voss on his farm, and then I went to college at the University of Maryland, which is close to Laurel Park, and that’s how I made the transition to the track.

You went to college and were galloping horses? I’ve been an off-and-on student. But I enjoyed doing both. It made me prioritize. I couldn’t go out and party with all the school work I had, and having to be up early to ride. It kept me focused.

What did you study in college? Public health. That’s what I got my degree in. It’s a broad degree. I’m not sure what direction I want to go with it, but I have it to fall back on.

Who did you work for at Laurel? A lot of different trainers. Tony Dutrow. Vinnie Blengs. Bud Delp.

How did you end up working for Larry and Cindy Jones? At the time I was working at Delaware. I just went and asked Larry for a job. It was right after Eight Belles. When Larry retired, I went back to school to finish my degree. I got my degree last May. I went back to work for Larry last fall at Keeneland.

How did you feel when Larry let you know you were going to be breezing the Horse of the Year? I was very flattered. It’s a little intimidating. There’s a lot of responsibility. She’s an amazing horse.

How so, from an exercise rider’s standpoint? She’s so classy. She knows she’s great. She’s just a wonderful mare. She’s very proud.

What was going through your mind the first time you worked Havre de Grace? I really tried to not let much of that distract me.

How many horses do you ride each morning? I get on seven or eight a day. They’re good horses, but not quite the Horse of the Year.

Did you ever ride in races? I tried, about eight years ago. It was different. I rode about five races at Pimlico and Charles Town. It didn’t work out. The weight didn’t work out, and I’m tall. I’m 5-foot-8.

Besides Havre de Grace, who are your favorite horses you have ridden? I pretty much love all my horses. Some really stand out, like Proud Spell, Friesan Fire, and Kodiak Kowboy. But I love all my horses.

In addition to Havre de Grace, who are the best horses you’ve seen in person? Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. They brought so much attention to the sport because of their popularity. I thought what they did was fantastic. They drew in fans who might not have been in horse racing. People saw Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra race and it drew them in.

Considering all the moving you did as a youth, do you like to travel? I liked going to Amsterdam when my grandmother was still alive, but it’s kind of sad that she’s not here anymore. I’ve been everywhere in Europe.

Hobbies? I have a wonderful dog, Cookie. We go roller-blading together, mountain biking, hiking. Anything I do with my dog makes me happy.

What kind of dog is Cookie? I call her a “mystery mix.” She’s a rescue puppy. I got her four years ago. She’s about 6 now.

Future ambitions? I haven’t really figured that out. I watch Larry and Cindy, and see how much there is to training, so I’m a little hesitant to take on all that comes with training. There are so many aspects to training horses, so many sides – the rules of racing, deciding what races to run in, dealing with the help at the barn and the owners. Even being an assistant is a lot of work and responsibility. Deidre Jackson, Larry and Cindy’s assistant, she puts in so much time and effort. I really admire her.

Any chance you could combine your health degree with racing in some way? I’m really into the healing arts and how therapy, like massage and chiropractic, works for horses. I think I’d like to eventually find something in that direction.