05/25/2011 3:52PM

Young Prairie Meadows rider takes unusual path to racetrack

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Apprentice jockey Megan Fadlovich, 21, is an exciting new addition to the 2011 colony at Prairie Meadows. Her experience and ensuing success in a wide variety of equine spheres belies her age.

Raised in Gurnee, Ill., Fadlovich began showing hunter-jumpers at the age of 11. As a 17-year-old, she headed to the Phoenix area and began a new career as a polo groom. Within a few months, she relocated to a 15-acre farm 30 miles west of Sacramento, Calif., where she was entrusted with the responsibility of looking after every aspect of 11 polo ponies.

During this stint, Fadlovich met “the only cowboy on the polo scene,” who challenged her to give cowboy-mounted shooting a spin. Shortly thereafter, she showed up in Amarillo, Texas, where she was crowned the 2008 Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association World Ladies 1 champion.

After a few years of Fadlovich ignoring encouragement to become a jockey, her mentor, former veteran rider Jorge Estrada II, got her to go to Turf Paradise and taught her “a lot of valuable things to know about racehorses.”

Initially, she was shocked by how short the stirrup leathers were when she began galloping. Trainer Charlie Essex hired her as an exercise rider in October 2009 and she was on her way.

Estrada introduced her to agent Steve Nolan, who represented Garrett Gomez, Isaias Enriquez, Ry Eikleberry, Kyle Kaenel, and others during their apprenticeships, and Fadlovich’s latest career move was charted. She began riding at Turf Paradise last fall and on Nov. 8 rode her first winner, which came for trainer Manuel Ortiz Sr.

“It was exciting,” Fadlovich said. “I won by a neck and the second-place horse nearly carried me to the outside fence.”

Next, Fadlovich and Nolan packed their bags and headed to Prairie Meadows, which she acknowledges “is a tough place to break in for a rider and agent who have never been here.”

Their business is steadily improving. Fadlovich has won on 5 of her first 40 mounts and has ridden for a variety of stables, including winners for Clinton Stuart, Greg Zielinski, James Clum, Randy Morse, and Jack Frost.

“I really like Iowa and I just take things day to day,” Fadlovich said. “I have no idea where I’ll head next.”

Richard off to tremendous start

Trainer Chris Richard, who tied Dick Clark for the Thoroughbred training title in 2008 during his first Prairie Meadows season, is off to a blazing start this meet and has won with 24 of his first 56 starters, a strike rate of 43 percent. Among his wins are a convincing score by Iowa-bred Mutti Blues in the $70,000 John Wayne Stakes and a pair of open maiden scores for 2 year olds by the Iowa-breds Freeze Your Kela and Lady Ban Shee, who are both owned by Sandra Rasmussen’s River Ridge Ranch.

Richard’s association with River Ridge “began over the last two, three weeks of the 2010 season,” and has blossomed to the point where he now trains 15 to 20 of its Iowa-breds. In addition to the two winning juveniles, Richard has hopes for recent allowance winner Cream of Soup, a 3-year-old daughter of Alphabet Soup.

“I think we can develop Cream of Soup into an Iowa stakes horse and she’ll improve further around two turns.” said Richard, who grew up in the Lake Charles, La., area and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas A&M.

Richard also trains for perennial leading owner Maggi Moss.

“I have about 20 to 25 for Maggi, including Native Ruler,” he said.

Veteran sprinter Native Ruler, winner of this year’s King Cotton at Oaklawn, is “as good as ever” and is being pointed for Monday evening’s $60,000 Prairie Expres