Thoroughbred trainer Cassandra Judd took a road with many turns and detours to get to the path she is on today, but her background with horses and horse racing contributed to her incredibly successful training career. She began preparing and working hard even before she graduated high school.
She was adopted by relatives involved with show horses; saddlebreds; Tennessee Walkers; and Quarter Horses, and did a lot of the breaking of those young horses in the Central Kentucky area in her teens. Her first job after her freshman year at college was at Winstar in the rehabilitative portion of their training division, and piqued her interest in thoroughbreds and their training.
Working with trainer Kenny McPeek’s barn followed, and then she moved to New York to work for trainer Michael Lecesse. From there, she headed to Canterbury Park, and then to Silver Springs Training in Kentucky. Since her passion was always with the veterinary care of horses, she then went to work for an independent veterinarian for six years, and that led her to Rood & Riddle in the ambulatory radiology department.
“I didn’t come into training thoroughbreds until 2020 when the Pandemic hit,” she remembered. “I got laid off from my job at Rood & Riddle and decided that I needed something to do.”
“My fiancée, Patrick Morell, the Simulcast Host for Presque Isle Downs, really wanted me to come up and spend the summer there, to be closer to him. So I went to work for Mike Rogers, a trainer at Presque Isle, for a year, and I got a phone call one day from Patrick that a client that she had bought a yearling for the year prior was failing in another trainer’s barn at Delaware. The trainer asked the owner to move the horse. Patrick asked if I’d be interested in taking and training this horse. I couldn’t do that, because I was working for Mike. I said Mike and I would see what we could do with her.”
The following year, Cassandra made a decision. “When the filly was three, I decided I was going to do everything on my own, show up to Presque Isle with a handful of horses, three including that filly, who by that time the owners had given her over to me fully. She wasn’t running well and wasn’t making any money, but I just knew that she was mentally immature. She had a minor setback after a race at Belterra, she came up with an injury that I had to rehab. So I showed up with my three horses in 2021, and thought, worst case scenario, it would be a fun way to lose money!”
“I ended up winning a race with each horse that I brought, and after that, things just escalated from there!”
And it did escalate! She got on with a couple more clients, while keeping her focus on a bit of the rehab, or more accurately, the ‘legging up’, end. “I’ve always sort of carried the reputation of, if there’s a problem horse to catch, she will fix it! By the time I get them rolling and in the right direction, I’m good to let them go. I’ve done that for a few people over the last few years. But the horses that I have held on to, and trained for any length of time, they’ve made the stable what it is today!” she said with pride.
This season, an impressive win with Maldives Model (Petionville-Tahitian Pearl) at Presque Isle in the Princess of Sylmar Stakes had jaws dropping. “Tom Coulter was a new client for me this year by way of (trainer) Erin McClellan, and Maldives Model had excelled in the past on the tapeta surface.” The race set up flawlessly, with Genevieve’s Z Vaand Tactical Pajamas getting into a speed duel on the front end, which set up perfectly for Maldives Model to close in the deep stretch. “Gaddiel (Martinez, jockey) gave her the perfect trip, under perfect conditions. And she just dominated that day! Of course, I was shocked for myself that I because I stakes-winning trainer that way, and it was my first win on the meet. So I kind of ‘broke my maiden’ with a bang.”
She particularly loves racing at Presque Isle, pointing out the superiority of the surface. “It’s certainly marked as one of the safest racetracks in North America, and that includes Woodbine, and we can attribute that to a lot of factors, everything from the population that trains and runs over the surface on a regular basis; to the maintenance; and the makeup of the surface in general. The synthetic track helps them bounce back faster, they tend to move up. It’s a good track to increase the longevity of the racehorse, and you don’t have to tear them down to make them a good horse on the track, at any level.”
Cassandra fully supports racing in Pennsylvania and stresses the importance of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association (PHBA). “With the breeder’s incentives for breeding and owning in Pennsylvania; we’re running $32,000 Allowance purses at Presque Isle in particular, plus a 30% bonus for Pennsylvania bred horses, so owners, breeders, fans, make a lot of money for investing in this program and running their horses in Pennsylvania.”
Being a woman trainer in what still sometimes can be perceived as a male-dominated business can be intimidating, but Cassandra’s strength; work ethic; and belief in herself continues to fuel her passion for her profession. “I don’t look at it as I have less or I have anything in particular because I’m a woman versus what a man has or has access to,” she said emphatically. “I put blinkers on when it comes to the gender inequality in this game because, at the end of the day, working on the racetrack, working in the thoroughbred industry in any facet is going to make you very mentally resilient to being told ‘no’, whether you are a man or a woman. And it is up to you to decide if you’re going to be able to overcome that.”
“So I’ve never really given concession to the idea that maybe somebody told me ‘no’ because I’m a girl; somebody told me ‘no’ because they told me ‘no’, and then I’m just going to do my best to keep my nose to the grindstone and work to prove to myself and everybody else that I’m worth being told ‘yes’ to”.
Seven days a week; in the barn by 5:30AM; training until 10:30AM; and then back every night to take care of the nightly work, including feeding, taking care of stalls and checking horses makes for an extremely busy life, but she’s content to take care of her barn. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love doing what I do. I love being able to put my life’s work into my career today.”
91 starts
10 Firsts
14 Seconds
13 Thirds
Total Earnings – $280,718
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