Messenger - Vol. 2, No. 1, Page 3
Fall 1992
Working on the 'backside'; Gail Hanford, '85, says she is not uncomfortable
as a minority in the male-dominated, horse-training business, which, she
concedes, can be very rough. 

Gail Hanford remembers the Shetland pony her father gave her when she was 5
years old. She remembers the winters spent as a little girl in Aiken, S.C.,
where he trained thoroughbred race horses. What she cannot remember is when
she decided to go into the horse-training business herself.

     Old photographs have blurred the line between experiences that were
her own and those of her father, she says. In short, she remembers being
around horses all her life.
     It is no surprise, then, that Hanford, Delaware '85, rises every
morning before the sun to head for Delaware Park, a one-mile race track in
Stanton, Del., near the University. Like her father, Carl, she is a
trainer, preparing horses for races on the turf and dirt tracks of
Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania. What makes her situation unusual is
her gender.
     According to an article in the June 1991 edition of The Backstretch,
the official publication of United Thoroughbred Trainers of America (UTTA),
women slowly began to break into horse training in the 1930s. The largest
horse owners' and trainers' association in the country, UTTA reports that
today a mere 8 percent of its members are female trainers.
     Hanford says she is not uncomfortable as a minority in the
male-dominated, horse-training business, which, she concedes, can be very
rough. "I've spent all my life around the track," she says, "and I do all
the things around a horse that any guy could do. I've never really felt
other than an equal to any man. A lot of it has to do with my personality."
     Of course, having the right temperament for dealing with all the
characters that live and work on the "backside" of a race track is critical
to surviving in the horse-training business. Personality cannot account,
however, for success in horse training, which appears to run in the Hanford
family like a well-bred colt.
     Carl Hanford gained prominence in horse racing as the trainer of
Kelso, recognized as the Horse of the Year by "everyone" in the business
from 1960 through 1964, experts say. Before his days as a trainer, the
elder Hanford also was a jockey, and later, a steward, and the highest
ranking official at a race track. Carl's brother, Ira, caught people's
attention in 1936, when he became the first apprentice, or rookie, jockey
to win the Kentucky Derby, a rider has matched in the last 56 years.
     Now, at 30, Gail Hanford is beginning to win races. From the beginning
of this year through August, with six horses under her care, Hanford has
had five wins, six second places, a third and two fourth places. To date,
just one race in 1992 has seen one of her horses finish "out of the money,"
or below the top five places. For her efforts, Hanford receives about
$1,500 per month per horse, most of which goes into feeding the animals and
paying two assistants. She also earns 10 percent of any prize money the
horses' owners receive for a first-, second- or third-place finish.
     Still, all those numbers don't add up to much in take-home pay, says
Hanford, who majored in business administration at the University. "You're
very lucky if you make money, extremely lucky," she says. "Right now, I'm
real pleased because all my owners have been winning races and they're
making money, but, gosh, they've gone for years without making anything."
     Hanford has three clients, the Rooney brothers. A family connection
between the Hanfords and the Rooneys-Carl Hanford trained horses for the
Rooneys' father-created the current owner-trainer relationship.
     One of the brothers, Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers
football team, placed a 6-year-old from Ireland named Marabeau Special with
Hanford. "She's really done a good job," he says. "Before Gail got the
horse, it was not doing so great." Since she began training Marabeau
Special, the horse has won three races, finished third once and fourth
once. All that in just six races.
     Hanford attributes much of her success to group decision-making. "Back
when I was first starting out, I more or less took everything my father
said as gospel," she says. "That was the way to do it. But since then, I've
worked with different people and listened to different opinions, and now I
have some of my own opinions. Still, I really like to find out what people
around me think before I decide anything."
     Though Hanford says she doesn't "get real excited over anything" at
the track, there have been special moments. This year, one of those moments
came on "the turf," complements of Marabeau Special. "He ran real big in
every race last year, but he just couldn't win," she says. "I hate to give
a horse excuses, but this one had a valid excuse every time. You could see
the way he was running that he had a lot of ability.
     "This year, I had to run him on the dirt one time to qualify him for
some other races, and he didn't run well. But the next time I stuck him
where he belongs, which is on the grass, and he won. That was thrilling."
     Another recent triumph for Hanford also came on the turf, this time in
Atlantic City, N.J., where a 2-year-old filly named Sunshine Mary ran
against the colts, or young male horses. "Most people think it's a big
disadvantage to run a filly against the colts, but I don't personally agree
with them," Hanford says. "If you run a filly, you get a couple of weight
allowances and the horse gets in lighter, so I think it's really an
advantage. We ran her with the boys who had been in stakes down in Atlantic
City, which we thought would probably be over her head, and she just blew
past them. That was exciting, too."
     To obtain her trainer's license, which she did as a University senior,
Hanford had to pass a written test, administered by the stewards of
Delaware Park, as well as a barn test given by the Delaware Horsemen's
Association. She also had to have her own horse run in one race. That horse
finished the race in second place with a bowed tendon, a career-ending
injury that ranks right up there with the special victories as the most
emotional part of a trainer's work, Hanford says.
     Working seven days, starting around 6:30 a.m. and ending around
noon-only to go back for feeding time around 4:30 p.m. for a few more
hours, Hanford is completely responsible for the care of her owners'
horses, from feeding to bathing, exercising and grooming. She also picks
the races in which the horses run.
     In the end, she explains her passion for the ponies this way: "You
kind of have to be in love with animals to work with them every day. The
owners are in it for the love of the sport, but the people who put in
24-hour days...why else are they doing it but for the love of the animals?"
                                   -Stephen Steenkamer, Delaware '92