When Leah Gyarmati first went to the racetrack, she didn’t go willingly. As a 16-year-old, she reluctantly took a job as a hotwalker in the Belmont Park barn of Hall of Fame trainer H. Allen Jerkens at the behest of her father, who wanted her to earn some money to pay her horse show bills. He also thought that the experience might quell her passion for horses.
Instead, she became so enthralled with life at the track that she questioned, on and off for years, following the college-bound path that she—and her family—assumed that she’d take.
While studying philosophy at Samford University in Alabama, she’d head home to Long Island during breaks and go back to Jerkens’ barn, working her way up from hotwalker to groom to exercise rider to assistant trainer, the pull of the racetrack stronger than the pull of the classroom.
But it was a pull that she resisted, completing both an undergraduate and a master’s degree in philosophy, then enrolling in a doctoral program in theology that she planned to complete while working mornings for Jerkens.
She laughs now, looking back at her naiveté.
“I got sucked right back in,” Gyarmati said. “The racetrack is such an addictive place.”
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Featured image: Gyarmati (far right) in the winner’s circle after winning the G1 Longines Test with Sweet Reason for owner Jeff Treadway, second from left. Photo credit NYRA/Adam Coglianese