The first leg of U.S. horse racing's Triple Crown Series, the Kentucky Derby, is set for Saturday in Louisville, Kentucky. One of the trainers is getting as much attention as the horses that are entered in the 130th so-called "run for the roses."
This year's Kentucky Derby, a 1.8 km race around the Churchill Downs oval track, may be one of the most exciting and unpredictable races in years because there is no horse that clearly stands out.
There is, however, a trainer who does. It's 21-year-old Kristin Mulhall. She is not only trying to become the youngest trainer of a Kentucky Derby winner, but also the first female. Ten women have trained Derby horses before, with the best finish a second place in 1992. The record for the youngest winning trainer is 24 and that was way back in 1881. Mulhall will be up against veteran trainers she has always admired, like Bob Baffert, whose horses have had three Derby victories in the past seven years.
Kristin Mulhall is the daughter of a career horse trainer and grew up working in the stables, the so-called backside of the racetrack. She is a former show rider and had been on the path to be an Olympic equestrian competitor, but her dream of competing in the Olympics with a jumping horse named Superman was derailed by an arm injury.
Mulhall's father opposed her move from show riding to horse trainer. So she left home at age 19 to pursue her trainer's license on her own. The horse she has trained for Saturday's Kentucky Derby is named "Imperialism." The jockey will be veteran Kent Desormeaux, who is a two-time winner of the Derby.
Imperialism will start from the tenth post position and is among the favorites. Imperialism won a pair of stakes races and finished third in the Santa Anita Derby in California.
The horse is owned by Steve Taub, who met Kristin Mulhall by chance at Santa Anita Park and decided to give her a chance.
"I did some homework," he said. "I was diligent. I called people. I talked to people as far away as Singapore, people that knew her. I was told things that were superb and I said [thought], 'this is the business I want to be in with this person running and operating my business.'"
Owner Steve Taub added that he likes the way Kristin Mulhall seems to bond with the horses she trains. She does her own exercise riding to better understand how the horses feel. Currently she oversees a staff of 23 employees and 40 horses.
Mulhall knows she is fortunate to be working with a fine horse like Imperialism and says she does not miss out on things she might otherwise be doing at her young age of 21.
"I've always hung out with an older group," she explained. "I mean I've never had friends of the same age or anything. I've never been into the party life or any of that. When I get down to thinking about it, it's pretty amazing. It's everything a trainer is doing basically to come here to Kentucky and to be able to make it with this horse is pretty special."
It will be even more special if Imperialism can finish in front of the 20-horse field to win Saturday's 130th running of the Kentucky Derby. That would put Kristin Mulhall in the history books as the youngest and first victorious female trainer of America's most prestigious horse race.