Momentum Of HRWS Continues To Build With Keeneland Event

Caroline Wilson, Jill Gordon, Allaire Ryan, Dr. Kathleen Paasch, DVM, Alexa Zepp courtesy of HRWS


Despite the varying levels of industry experience and the assortment of roles held amongst the 80 attendees at the Horse Racing Women's Summit (HRWS) event at Keeneland on Thursday, April 18, the sense of comradery was palpable throughout the day's program.

The first HRWS event of the year, the sold-out program included a keynote conversation and two panel discussions focused on the topics of sales and bloodstock, along with a workshop activity and ample opportunity to converse with fellow industry women throughout the afternoon.

Shannon Arvin, President and CEO of the Keeneland Association, alongside Julie Cauthen, a bloodstock agent and member of the Keeneland Inspection Team, kicked things off with a conversation moderated by Gabby Gaudet, a reporter/analyst for FanDuel/TVG and Keeneland.

With a friendship that goes back to junior high, Arvin and Cauthen delved into the two different paths they have taken in establishing their careers within the Thoroughbred industry and how they've balanced that with motherhood.

The importance of finding the equilibrium between the sacrifices made in one's personal life and professional life was a sentiment echoed by both women.

“I'm all for leaning in but I feel it's also important at times to lean out,” said Arvin. “Just because you make a choice at one point in your life, it's not indicative of the rest.”

The speakers also discussed the importance of having a supportive and motivating team around you, particularly when looking to advance your career within the industry, and emphasized the value of integrity and commitment.

“If you can make that choice, be with the people that make you feel valued and that you respect, and then that path to advance is easier,” said Cauthen.

“Show up. Just keep showing up over and over again. Even on days when you're discouraged, show up,” added Arvin.

Horse Racing Women's Summit at Keeneland | courtesy of HRWS

The program continued with the first panel, comprised of Allaire Ryan, Director of Sales at Lane's End Farm; Caroline Wilson of SF Bloodstock; Jill Gordon, Owner of Highgate Sales; and Dr. Kathleen Paasch, DVM, a Veterinarian and Shareholder at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital.

Moderated by Alexa Zepp, a Quality Assurance Analyst and Handicapper for Daily Racing Form, the panel entitled 'Navigating Sales' encompassed a wide-variety of discussion that ranged from how each woman's role varies at the sales, what it's taken to establish themselves in those roles, and how they've all learned to thrive amongst the hustle and bustle of the sales atmosphere.

“I had a good foundation and second to that, it was really important to put together a team that could rally around and be the best they can be. I think having that solid, strong team, there's nothing that can replace that and I think that's the most important thing when starting anything,” said Gordon, whose Highgate Sales has quickly shot to the top since debuting in 2022.

Ryan shared a differing perspective as someone whose family's involvement in the industry traces back four generations. She emphasized that despite being born into it, it was her determination and hard work that led to where she is today.

“I've learned through trials and tribulations that there are people out there that will use one consignor this year and a different consignor the next year. I think if you dwell on things, you can easily get caught up. I try to be respectful of my peers, the jobs that they do and the services they offer, because at the end of the day we're all relevant in what we do,” said Ryan. “I grew up in [the industry], but where I got to today is because I was forced to make my own connections. My dad is still one of my biggest cheerleaders, but the best thing he ever did for me was say, 'you have to go do it yourself.'”

Paasch, who was introduced to horses and learned to ride while growing up out west, completed an internship at Rood and Riddle in 2000 and has been there ever since.

“If you don't have a racing background, don't let that discourage you. People are very happy to answer your questions. There is knowledge in years of doing this job, from the grooms to the managers, on every level,” she said.

A native of Ireland who now travels nationally and internationally in her role with SF, Wilson paid homage to the connections she's made and the network she's built while forging her own path into the industry.

“I do feel like I've had a lot of people that helped me along the way and I'll always remember that. I feel very passionately about paying that forward because I was just really nobody that landed over here halfway accidentally and this has now become my whole life,” said Wilson.

Complimenting the event's first panel of the day, the second panel focused on 'Bloodstock Decisions,' with panelists including Kitty Day, Owner of Warrendale Sales; Cherie DeVaux, a Graded Stakes-Winning Trainer; Meg Levy, Owner of Bluewater Sales; and Dr. Natanya Nieman, DVM, General Manager and Resident Vet at WinStar Farm.

Day and Levy, who both established their own consignment companies over 20 years ago, shared how they've seen the sales world evolve, particularly when it comes to the role women play.

“When I started, women didn't show, only the men showed. There weren't any women consignors. And it evolved because there weren't enough men to do the job,” said Day. “I think women come into this industry for totally different reasons than men do. We love animals, we enjoy animals and we want to be around these animals.”

“I don't think that we can deny the business is still male-dominated. In the end, we're all human and we have to interact with the structure that is there and figure out strategies to both get to the position we want and be successful,” added Levy.

Though DeVaux, who went out on her own as a trainer in the spring of 2018, juggles plenty in her day-to-day schedule, she emphasized the importance of remaining grounded through staying true to yourself.

“Don't compromise who you are as a person, your values or your goals. Sometimes you have to take a step back to take two steps forward. If one door closes, it might not have been your path,” she said. “Be open but always keep your core values and be true to who you are.”

Stephanie Hronis | courtesy of HRWS

Nieman shared her personal experiences as a member of the WinStar team since 2002. Since last year, she's taken on the role of general manager while continuing her duties as the farm's resident vet.

“I felt like I owed it to myself and all of us to take the job and do what I can with it,” said Nieman. “Trust yourself and have faith in what you're doing. You do have the ability, you do have the knowledge, and you can do really whatever you want to do with it.”

Stephanie Hronis, Executive Committee Chair of the HRWS, wrapped up the day with an interactive workshop activity focused on 'work-life balance.'

“Being in this industry, it's not a one-size fits all. Our want, wish, hope with all of our events is that there are takeaways for you. No matter who you are or where you are in your career, there's a takeaway for you that you can apply both personally and professionally,” said Hronis. “We believe that by engaging, elevating and investing in women, we can change the sport of horse racing.”

The next HRWS event is Tuesday, July 23 at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, Ny. To purchase tickets, click here.

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