2019 Amateur Driver of the Year Jazmin Arnold continues her steady progression in the sulky

by Chris Lomon

You wouldn’t have blamed Jazmin Arnold if she had raised a glass after her first driving win. After all, it would have been most fitting.

It was July 29, 2013, when the young driver from Illinois hopped in the sulky behind the veteran pacer for the amateur race that was taking place at Coles County Fair in her home state.

Goose On The Rocks, a grey son of I Scoot Hanover (IN), had logged plenty of miles since his first start on July 1, 2011.

Bred by Merlie Schwartz (Peru, IN), the well-traveled pacer ultimately proved to be the perfect partner for Arnold, as the duo reeled off a :29.3 final quarter to cross the wire first in a time of 2:02.2, 1 ½ lengths ahead of the runner-up.

“This was right when I graduated high school,” recalled theNewton High School and Lake Land College graduate. “Tina Seekman owned the horse and Joe Seekman trained the horse. I always loved this horse. They told me if I wanted to take him to the fairs, to go right ahead. So that’s what I did two years in a row and we won again. My dad [Larry Finn] was there that day and it was just an amazing feeling to win.”

After several successes on the Ohio Fair circuit, Arnold, who was convinced by her boyfriend Adam Short to give driving a shot, met long-time breeder, owner, trainer, driver, and United States Trotting Association (USTA) director Steve Oldford, who was looking for drivers to participate in the Billings Series.

She quickly accepted the offer.

Arnold’s first pari-mutuel win came at Northfield Park in Ohio on Oct. 6, 2019, courtesy of Buddy Hally, a now 11-year-old trotting son of Angus Hall (ON).

Trained by Herman Hagerman, the brown gelding with over 250 starts to his name was a 2 ½-length winner in a time of 1:56.4.

“He’s a super-awesome horse,” said Arnold. “I was a little bit nervous. I knew what to expect, but that said, you’re on live TV, there are bettors and you are on the main stage. I like to laugh and joke a lot, and Herman’s wife, Morgan, she really helped get me through it. She was my backbone for the first couple of weeks. She was always the one to tell me that everything was going to be okay. And it was.”

In 2019, Arnold, who worked at Woodland Run Equine Veterinarian Clinic in Columbus, OH, and is also a talented barrel-racer, won 23 races from 59 starts, recorded 39 top-three finishes, and netted over $53,000 in purse earnings to go with a phenomenal .517 UDRS rating.

It was accomplished at 26 different racing venues.

She was unanimously named the 2019 USHWA Dan Patch Amateur Driver of the Year, joining Hannah Miller as only the second woman to receive the prestigious honor.

Last year, Arnold posted five wins and 14 top-three results from 44 starts. She also has 16 training wins and 27 top-three results from 46 lifetime starts.

The 26-year-old, who was a standout softball player during her school days, has no regrets over the career she chose.

“My junior year of high school I tore my ACL and I had to have a couple of surgeries on my knee,” said Arnold. “At that point, I realized that softball – I could still do it – was something that I didn’t want to do that badly. So, I jumped ship and since I was always working with my dad and grandpa [Mike Arnold] in the barn, gravitating to horse racing just kind of came naturally.

“When you’re young, you really don’t know what you want to do with your life. You have all these plans and then you ask yourself, ‘What fits my lifestyle best?’ I went to school and thought it was great. I graduated and realized that being around the horses all the time was something that made me happy. My grandpa always told me that if I wasn’t happy, I was the only one that could fix it, so about seven or eight years ago, I became full time with horse racing.”

Arnold offers up one particular parallel between the baseball diamond and the racetrack.

“You have to work very hard for anything you want. With softball, we worked day in and day out to get to those championship games and be at our best. It’s the same with driving. My horses are phenomenal, but you also need a capable driver as well. I feel like when I train the horses at home that sets me up for success when I go to the racetrack. I worked hard to get to where I am today.”

Where it will take her, even Arnold isn’t quite sure.

She takes a short pause before sharing her thoughts on career goals, both in the short and long term.

Arnold’s answer is more about “who” than “what.”

“Goals are tough, especially with horse racing. We can all have goals and plans, but it changes day-to-day. I have one horse in my stable as of right now, Montana Pablo A. My current goal is to get him to 70 lifetime wins. He’s 14. Not a lot of horses races at 14, but he’s doing absolutely great.”

The bay son of Blissful Hall, who is three wins shy of reaching the coveted mark, is in good hands with Arnold.

“I give him everything he needs and I make sure he’s happy. If you have a happy horse, you’ll have a happy life. He takes care of me and I take care of him. I make a joke that the ‘A,’ which is to note that he’s an Australian-bred, actually stands for Arnold. When he’s in trouble, I call him Montana Pablo Arnold because he’s my kid. Everyone teases me and says that I’m a child. I just laugh and tell them that I don’t ever want to grow up.”

As for her long-term goals, Arnold prefers to take a simplistic and realistic approach.

Simply put, it’s all about upping her game from the year prior.

“I just want to progress, to do everything I can to better the numbers.”

It’s an admirable perspective, and one certainly worthy of raising a glass to.”