LEXINGTON, KY – Going into the final turn at Laurel Park, Maryland, Kristina McManigell shifted all her weight to the left in an effort to navigate the horse around it. That particular horse, however, wasn’t feeling very cooperative, moving to the middle of the track and trying to bolt to the outside.
“He didn’t like the dirt,” joked McManigell.
As a direct result of the pressure from her leaning on left side had taken a serious toll on her pelvic region. The pain didn’t come as a complete surprise to the jockey, as the problem had already been diagnosed.
“I knew I wouldn’t be able to ride for much longer at the time,” McManigell admitted. “My left hip was what the doctor described as ‘the hip of a 70 year old.’”
In fact, she was well aware that a hip replacement would be necessary as time progressed, likely putting an end to her career on the racetrack.
“But I was trying to stick it out for as long as I could.”
As it turns out, she couldn’t hold out beyond that last turn at Laurel Park.
“So unfortunately, that was the day I decided it was time to retire,” said McManigell.
And after doing so on March 13, 2014, the sport of horseracing lost one of its best. During her time atop a horse, the former Lancaster resident had acquired $4,648,421 in lifetime earnings from the track. From her first race, which took place at the historic Churchill Downs, her racing future continued to get brighter and brighter.
Yet it all began back in Wabash county, when McManigell was just 12 years old. She started her training under the watchful eye of Christina Haner, of Mount Carmel.
“I would work for her at the barn in exchange for riding lessons,” recalled McManigell.
It was Haner who would introduce her to Judge Clarence Partee, who owned a farm in the Mount Carmel area at the time. Partee also had a racehorse, which he wanted the young McManigell to gallop for him.
“I was only 12 at the time, but I was game,” she claimed.
And she was, so much so that Partee told her that she should be a jockey. Those words, as well as the experience as a whole, had a profound influence on her life from that day forward.
“It was a life-changing experience,” stated McManigell. “I didn’t know much about racing. But I knew that if a jockey did that, well that was exactly what I wanted to do.”
Partee gave McManigell her first Thoroughbred, a horse that still resides on her parent’s farm in Lexinton, KY today.
“That horse used to throw me off every day,” she remembered, “and for some reason, I still wanted to be a jockey.”
With the help of Albion resident Darla Ewald, another influencial instructor in her life, McManigell took the next necessary step toward attaining that goal, applying to Chris McCarron’s North American Racing Academy at the age of 18. McCarron’s school, centered in Lexington, serves as the only jockey academy in the United States.
From there, the young jockey had much success,
traveling to places such as Tampa Bay, Boston, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia to race against the strongest competitors in the country. The Maryland circuit was a favorite of hers, as McManigell would ride multiple horses throughout the day, and frequently take part in night races as well, making the two and a half hour trip from Laurel Park to compete at Penn National or Charles Town.
Of course, with great success comes adversity, which came mostly in the way of injury in McManigell’s case. In one race in January of 2011, after the filly on which she was riding broke its leg mid-race, she was thrown from the horse, fracturing her C6 vertebrae. Yet, a mere three months later, she was back on the track.
But perhaps the most devasting injury suffered by McManigell came in August of 2013, at the height of her career. It was at Delaware Park, when riding on the turf, that her filly simply collapsed in the middle of a race. Upon hitting the ground, McManigell’s helmet strap snapped, leaving her head exposed as she continued to roll from the impact.
She was in a coma for several days, with a fractured collarbone and several vertebrae in her back waiting to greet her once she awoke. Focusing heavily on her physical therapy, however, McManigell returned to the saddle after only one month’s time.
“Probably not the smartest decision,” she confessed. “I should have waited a bit longer. It wasn’t long after that when my hip began to cause problems.”
It appeared as though those hip issues would keep her away from the sport she held so dear. But that would not be the case, as Mike Penna, Director of the Horse Racing Radio Network, hired her as a personality for the network. The two met through mutual friend Kurt Becker, the track announcer at Keeneland who happens to be a native of Altamont, IL.
Now, McManigell hosts a weekly show called “Jock Talk” on Tuesday evenings at 6:00 pm. During her time on the air, she interviews successful jockeys in the industry.
“It’s a great way to stay involved in the sport,” said McManigell.
There were some adjustments that she needed to make during the transition. Trying to see things from the audience’s perspective, rather than that of a professional jockey took some getting used to, according to McManigell. Then there were some changes that come with working in radio.
“I had to break a few bad habits in the beginning, saying certain words too often.”
Despite enjoying success in the career switch, McManigell still looks back at her former profession with a certain fondness.
“I miss it every day. But I’m very grateful that I can say, ‘I did it.’”
Yet McManigell is ready to move forward with her life, embracing her new profession whole-heartedly. Indeed, rather than fuss about the days that were, she is focusing on advancing her broadcasting career, keeping her eyes ahead of her.
Because no one knows what the next left turn has in store for them.