Sometimes it’s tough breaking into the family business, following in the footsteps of those who have come before you. But it’s even more difficult when one is as much of an individual – as focused, driven and free-spirited – as Kaylia Albright is.
Once ‘The Reluctant Jockey’, K. Albright now seems to have embraced her horse-racing lineage, her destiny, sort to speak. But one must excuse her if she attempts to make a name for herself, in her own way.
Albright was born into a horse racing family. She is actually a third generation ‘horse person’. At Penn National Race Course in Grantville, the name ‘Albright’ is almost as synonymous with racing as ‘furlong’, ‘hand’ or ‘maiden’.
“I felt pretty lucky growing up around horse racing,” said Albright, a 22-year-old resident of Jonestown. “I would go to rodeos and have the knowledge of the people at the race track because my family trained. When I was really young, me and my cousins would go to the track all the time. All of my life it’s been horses, horses, horses.
“I like to go fast and I like to ride horses,” Albright continued. “It’s like I don’t even have a job because it’s fun. It gives you an adrenalin rush.”
Albright’s mother, Amy Albright, and father, Benjamin Winnett were both jockeys. Amy Albright now trains horses, as does Kaylia’s uncle, George ‘Rusty’ Albright.
Before them, Kaylia’s grandparents Dona and George Albright were also trainers, mostly at Penn National.
“I was getting on horses when I was ten, for my mom on the farm,” said K. Albright, a 2009 graduate of Northern Lebanon High School. “I didn’t like it, so I was going to keep it as a hobby. I hated galloping horses, even though both my parents and my aunt were jockeys, and my whole family was into racing.
“Yeah, I pretty much grew up around it,” K. Albright continued. “I was going to go to college, but it didn’t work out. In a sense, I took the easier route. I just had to take advantage of it. They really didn’t say much about riding. My uncle would ask me, and all the people at the track would ask me, ‘When are you going to start riding? When are you going to start riding?’ My family didn’t pressure me. At first, I really didn’t want to.”
When she did start racing, she did so with a bang. On July 13, 2012 at Penn National, Albright won the first race she ever competed in.
Not only was it a good start, it was a preview of things to come.
“You learn things the longer you ride,” said Albright. “It’s a building process. I’m definitely better. I feel like I’m a much better rider, but I still have a lot to learn. Horses are always teaching you things.
“When you look at the (race) program, you see where your horse likes to run and what your horse likes to do,” added Albright. “You have to know who you’re riding with and the type of horse you’re on. The program will tell you what they did before, but not what they’re going to do. Things don’t always play out the way you think they’re going to. Things change race-to-race. It doesn’t always set up the way it should.”
Albright is in the midst of a fairly prosperous 2013 campaign.
In 594 starts, Albright has been in the money 254 times, or 43 percent of the time. Currently sixth in Penn National’s jockey standings, Albright-piloted horses have earned $1,578, 341 in winnings.
“I’ve had a really good year,” said Albright. “I was lucky enough to run a lot of nice horses. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve pushed myself.
“I think I’ve succeeded because I’ve been open to learning,” Albright added. “I have a good relationship with the horses I get on. I want to learn. I don’t think I’m ‘The Best’. As long as I’m better than myself, I’m happy. I don’t want to be better than anyone. I want other people to be good, and me to be better than them.”
While another one of Albright’s key to success has been the rapport she develops with her horses, it is debatable whether or not that bond is stronger than the one forged between horse and trainer. What works best is when trainer, jockey and horse work in unison, and become one.
“I think that depends on what you want to know,” said Albright. “Hopefully the trainer knows the horse better than anyone. But we’re on the horse’s back, out on the track. I try to listen to horses – let horses tell me – but I also have to listen to trainers. There are trainers who are hard to ride for.
“A lot of it is the energy part,” added Albright. “You can feel if they’re ready to race or if they’re tense. You’ve got to read the horse. Believe it or not, they tell you everything you want to know.”
At 107 pounds, Albright has a weight cushion of about another six. While it’s a weighty issue that most jockeys have to keep an eye on, it’s something Albright doesn’t really need to concern herself with.
“That’s really good,” said Albright of her weight. “I could get up to 113. I don’t have to worry about my weight. I’m lucky in that way. I can eat ‘bad’.
“The majority (of starts) are at Penn (National), but I want to start riding out of town more,” continued Albright. “I can get my out-of-town business to pick up. I want to ride here (Penn National) and be in the top five or top ten. I’m trying to take it step-by-step and make it to the top. And my goal is to improve the horse.”
While still in the infant stages of her racing career, in many ways, Albright is riding on borrowed time. For most jockeys, there is a shelf life.
“It differs from jockey to jockey,” said Albright, one of four active female jockeys at Penn National. “It all depends on what happens, day-to-day. You never know. That’s a question you can’t put an answer to.
“I just want to be the best I can,” Albright added. “I want to prove girls can ride just as good as boys. More and more girls are stepping up to the plate and riding. There’s a lot to overcome. People are always saying guys are stronger than girls. That girls aren’t tough enough.”