Trainer Connie Hall listened intently to jockey Eddie Garcia at trackside Saturday night after he had ridden Kid O Dash to a third-place finish in a trial for the El Primero Del Ano Derby Jan. 26.
“A little bit of a long gate,” Hall said after the brief conference. “He jumped off and slipped a little bit at the start.”
Kid O Dash, a 3-year-old gelding, qualified for the 10-horse final with the eighth-fastest time in the three trials. Hall called him a nice horse but wondered if he had the mental toughness to be a champion, like Rambac, who won the El Primero two years ago despite a wing fracture on one hoof.
“He hurt his back a little and has had some minor problems,” Hall said. “Champions don’t let anything bother them, like Rambac.”
Hall could easily have been describing herself. Tough, outspoken, determined, she has refused to let obstacles bother her in becoming the leading female trainer at Los Alamitos.
Beginning her 20th year as a trainer, Hall has won nearly 300 races and earned $2.4 million in purses. She is in a close battle for fifth place in the meet standings, with 19 victories starting the week.
“I’ve been around horses since I was 7 or 8,” said Hall, who graduated from Mayfair High School in Lakewood. “I showed horses and had them here. In high school, I did barrel-racing at the track and messed with jumpers. I was awed by race horses and began working with them.”
Hall never accepted the word no easily.
“When I was 17 or 18, the stewards turned me down three times for a groom’s license,” she recalled. “They said they didn’t want women back there, and we had to be off the grounds by dark. I said I was going to stay anyway so they might as well give me the license.”
Hall smiled at the perception of women in racing by the Establishment at that time.
“I started training in 1971, and took four horses to Pomona,” she said. “I won a couple of races and the stewards called me in and complimented me.”
Attitudes have improved greatly in recent years, according to Hall, but it remains a struggle to acquire horses from owners, and she counted the number of female trainers at the meet on one hand.
“Times have changed and officials have changed,” she said. “As officials have gotten younger, they seem more open-minded. Still, it’s tough. There are a lot of owners’ wives who don’t like their husbands coming out if the trainer is a woman. They get suspicious.”
Even so, Hall has put together a 30-horse stable. But she has little room for other women in her operation.
“I just have male foremen and use only male riders,” she said. “It doesn’t work out with other women. I run it the way I want to.”
Hall described herself as independent and said candidly, “I don’t take orders well.”
Hall works hours that would discourage most members of either sex. When Los Alamitos is open with its five-night schedule from Tuesday through Saturday, she is there five nights and six mornings a week.
“We usually train from 7 to 11 a.m., then get out around noon after shoeing and the vets,” she said. “I come back at 3:30 to check the horses, get home again at 5, and come back at 7:30 or 8 for the evening. When I have a horse in the last race, like tonight, I don’t get home until 1 a.m.”
Hall admits the schedule has forced her to sacrifice time she would prefer to spend with her 23-year-old daughter, Jolene, and her 12-year-old son, Johnny.
“I’m on the trainers’ committee too,” Hall said. “There seems to be less time than ever with all the recent CHRB meetings.”
But she wouldn’t have it any other way. She owns some horses, her own equipment and a home on a half-acre property off Beach Boulevard in Anaheim, where she keeps 10 horses.
She has trained such stars as Rambac, who earned more than $500,000 and was named national champion 3-year-old gelding in 1989 after winning the $365,660 Golden State Derby; and Chicks Beduino, a California champion who won the $355,718 Bay Meadows Futurity in 1986 and earned more than $400,000.
Kid O Dash, her Derby qualifier, is by Dash for Cash out of Kid o’ War, a thoroughbred she once owned.
“I sold her to Joe Muniz of Costa Mesa and negotiated a free breeding and foal sharing arrangement with Phillips Ranch in Texas,” she said. “I was quite proud of myself, working out the deal with B.F. Phillips, the millionaire. I talk fast, and Texans and Oklahomans talk real slow.”
Muniz bought the horse for himself for $40,000 at a Phillips Ranch yearling sale. He already has earned more than $70,000.
Hall admits Kid O Dash will be a longshot against the likes of Takin on the Cash and Blisterin in the Derby. But she is happy to have taken him this far.
“I like the action of the track, getting a horse to the track, qualifying for a big race like this,” she said. Hall.
But she would like a little more.
“I want another champion,” Hall said, ready to put in another 20 years in the quest for one.
Los Alamitos Notes
Trainer Rodney Hart said that Jacks Dash, who scored his fifth consecutive victory in the Golden State Futurity, would probably make his sophomore debut in the $100,000 HQHRA Championship against older horses Feb. 2. . . . Older stars such as Heisajoy, Tee Roy Reb, Apprehend and Jazzing Hi could use the $25,000-added Pat Hyland Handicap at 400 yards Saturday as a prep for the Championship. The Saturday program also will feature two $30,000 stakes for Arabians. Terry Magna Smokey is expected to head the Open Sprint and Pacifica tops the candidates for the Distaff.