A steady downpour on the first Saturday in May couldn’t dampen the spirits of Kentucky Derby newcomer Hannah Mathiesen.
The Rancho Santa Fe resident was at Churchill Downs to cheer on My Boy Jack -- a horse owned by her family in partnership with West Point Thoroughbreds, along with Monomoy Stables and Don’t Tell My Wife Stables — in this year’s Run for the Roses.
“It was amazing!” Mathiesen said.
As part of the ownership group — and one of the youngest, at age 21 — she was able to participate in the “walkover.” The “walkover” is a Derby tradition where the horses and their connections make the long trek from the barns behind the backstretch, around the first turn, through the tunnel and into the paddock, where the saddling occurs before the race.
“All of the fans who were yelling ‘My Boy Jack’ … it was the coolest thing!” Mathiesen recalled.
She watched the race from the ground floor, near the rail, as the rain came down in buckets.
“We (Californians) didn’t get the memo about needing ponchos,” Mathiesen said with a laugh.
She recalled hearing the roar of the crowd starting at one end of the grandstand and making its way to the opposite side, as Justify splashed his way to a 2 1/2-length victory. Meanwhile, My Boy Jack, who was at the back of the pack for the first part of the race, got bumped around and raced wide into the final turn, but closed strongly to finish fifth.
“My Boy Jack had such a tough trip,” Mathiesen said. “We knew he would be coming from behind. … We were very happy with this (effort).”
“I am so glad (Hannah) has … been able to live the Derby dream as a partner in My Boy Jack,” West Point founder and President Terry Finley said. “It has been a special thing for me to see her family enjoy their ownership experience together.”
It certainly was one of the most memorable racing days so far for Mathiesen, who has experienced a quick ascension in the sport.
She was introduced to it at an early age, as she grew up in close proximity to the Del Mar racetrack. Mathiesen remembers attending morning breakfasts once or twice each summer as a casual fan while horses trained on the track.
However, she began to take more interest in racehorses once she attended college. The Santa Fe Christian graduate initially went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to play volleyball, but after she broke her foot, she started to explore other options.
“I always really liked animals,” Mathiesen said. “On campus, there were always horses around — they were calming and de-stressing for me.”
She decided to sign up for the Thoroughbred Enterprise program, where she helped take care of mares and yearlings, and even sold one at a sale.
“It piqued my interest (in racing),” Mathiesen said.
She came home for summer vacation after her freshman year, and began visiting the Del Mar racetrack more frequently. A chance encounter with trainer Bob Baffert in a local coffee shop led to an invitation to his barn to meet Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Mathiesen fell in love with the mild-mannered colt as she fed him carrots, and he became her favorite racehorse.
Mathiesen’s passion for the sport further deepened that summer, as she attended a new owner’s seminar at Del Mar with her dad, Mark, a business consultant and private investor. While they were there, they met representatives from West Point Thoroughbreds, one of the sport’s top racing syndicates, whose horses include 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming. Mark Mathiesen decided to give ownership a try, and bought into the partnership.
“We dipped our toes in the water to see if we would like it, and we did!” Hannah Mathiesen said.
The Mathiesens also began to establish their own stable — managed by Hannah — and now have about 25 horses between them and West Point, all based on the West Coast. Among their top runners is Fatale Bere, fifth in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Del Mar in 2017 and winner of the Grade III Providencia Stakes in April; and La La Land, second in the Singletary Stakes in May.
As fate would have it, Fatale Bere won the Surfer Girl Stakes at Santa Anita last October, on the same day My Boy Jack won the Zuma Beach Stakes. My Boy Jack’s race caught the attention of the Mathiesens, and they kept an eye on him throughout the winter and spring. So when West Point brokered a deal and bought a minority interest in the colt after he won the Grade III Stonestreet Lexington Stakes at Keeneland in April, the Mathiesens jumped at the chance to be among his owners.
“We just liked My Boy Jack — every time he races, he shows up,” Mathiesen said. “Keith (Desormeaux) is an amazing trainer.”
While assisting her family with the stable, Mathiesen has been supplementing her racing education with internships. During the summer and fall of 2016 and 2017, she did “a little bit of everything” for West Point.
“Having Hannah out in California during the summer meets at Del Mar was a huge help to us and our partners,” Finley said. “Hannah has a warm and friendly personality that is an asset in the racing partnership business since it is so focused on customer service. Hannah was videoing horses training in the morning, escorting partners back to the barns, and helping our primary partner service liaison in California, Nancy Dollase, interact with owners on race days. She’s inquisitive, and I really think she’s enjoyed learning about the racing industry.”
Mathiesen also served as a Del Mar media marketing intern last summer.
“I recall Hannah as being personable, refreshingly intelligent, and very much relishing the opportunity to learn everything she could while an intern last summer at Del Mar,” said Dan Smith, the track’s senior media coordinator. “My strong hunch is that she will have a decidedly positive impact should she choose to pursue a career in thoroughbred racing.”
Indeed, Mathiesen confirmed that she plans to stay with the sport. In just a few weeks, she will graduate from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a degree in kinesiology, and will move to Melbourne, Australia, at the end of September to work for trainer Ciaron Maher as an assistant bloodstock manager. Mathiesen will be involved in buying horses at auction, client relations and syndication sales.
And as vice president of the Nexus Racing Club — a nonprofit social organization established last year — she will continue to encourage people ages 18-30 to become involved in racing. Club members have the opportunity to preview thoroughbred ownership, network with industry professionals, and meet other racing fans. For more information, go to nexusracingclub.com.
As for My Boy Jack, the colt returned to California after the Kentucky Derby. At press time, Mathiesen said he was being pointed toward the Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational in New York in July, which will hopefully set him up for the Grade I Haskell Invitational and Grade I Travers Stakes. The Haskell and Travers are two of the biggest races for 3-year-old horses during the summer, held on the East Coast.