When the starting gates open Friday for the Juvenile Turf Sprint race during the Breeders’ Cup in Del Mar, California, a special filly named Averly Jane will have a large contingent of University of Kentucky fans and connections rooting her on.
Those connections are deep. From the UK alumnus who heads the racing partnership group that owns her, to the numerous faculty, staff, alumni and current students who were part of her life from foaling through the sales ring, the filly has impacted many people associated with UK.
Bred and raised by UK’s Maine Chance Farm, a unit of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s Animal and Food Sciences Department, Averly Jane is undefeated in her first four starts. A $35,000 graduate of the 2020 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale, she is currently owned by Hat Creek Racing and trained by Wesley Ward. A sea of ecstatic UK fans were on hand in the winner’s circle after her decisive win in the Oct. 10 Indian Summer Stakes at Keeneland that earned her an automatic berth to Breeders’ Cup.
While this highly visible racing success of Averly Jane is very exciting, the greatest legacy for the university comes from preparing students to become skilled and successful contributors to the equine workforce after they graduate.
“For our college, education is at the core of Averly Jane’s success and our program is committed to the state’s signature industry by developing a knowledgeable, skilled workforce and providing critical research and outreach efforts,” said Nancy Cox, UK vice president for land-grant engagement and dean of the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “Faculty and staff within our equine programs are truly dedicated to the success of our students and the health and safety of our animals.”
UK’s Maine Chance Farm is a place where undergraduate students come to learn through hands-on educational opportunities. Some have extensive experience handling or riding horses prior to coming to UK, while others step onto the farm with a love for horses and a desire to work in the industry but very limited experience. By the time they graduate, all have been provided both a foundation of knowledge and relevant hands-on experience in equine-related career paths.
“It’s great to watch the race, but I really reflect on what that means for the students in terms of how they view their experience here, either as working students or students that come to the farm for classes,” said Laurie Lawrence, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences.
“I got the experience to help train Averly Jane,” said Megan Gansen, a junior majoring in animal science. “She was a super eager horse. She was amazing and it’s amazing to watch and see, especially when they give us a shout out when she’s about to run. They say that she was raised by UK and it’s just awesome to know that I was able to be a part of it.”
“Something like the Breeders’ Cup is pretty phenomenal for anybody, not just our program,” said Tim Jedra, animal resource manager for UK’s Maine Chance Farm. “Averly Jane exceeded our expectations, just like a lot of our students do when they move on into the industry.”
There is a unique and important partnership that has developed with the industry. That educational component wouldn’t be possible without a Thoroughbred racing industry that supports the university’s land grant missions through donations of the mares and stallion seasons and by employing the interns and graduates of UK.
For instance, Averly Jane’s dam is a mare named Sh Sh Shakin’ who was donated to UK by Endeavor Farm located in Midway, Kentucky. She raced for trainer Mark Tsagalakis, who co-owns Endeavor Farm with Terry Nickell. UK’s relationship with Endeavor extends beyond the horses it has donated. The farm also now employs Maine Chance graduates Laura and Keith Haag in management positions, an example of the synergy of UK’s students moving into relevant industry roles.
Averly Jane’s sire is Midshipman, who has seen another Breeders’ Cup success story this year for offspring in addition to Averly Jane. That stallion season was donated by Darley, Lexington.
While UK’s administration, faculty and staff follow and celebrate the successes of all of UK’s horses, the high-profile racing accomplishments of Averly Jane clearly demonstrate to students and the industry the program’s quality. As a result, students gain the knowledge, skills and confidence to be successful in the equine industry after graduation.
“Working with the horses at Maine Chance has allowed me to learn so much that now I feel confident that I can go out and be a successful horsewoman in the Thoroughbred industry,” said Olivia Irwin, a senior majoring in equine who was also part of Averly Jane’s life at UK.
“When I transferred into the program, I had no hands-on horse experience. Being from Louisville, I fell in love with Thoroughbreds and horse racing at a young age. I grew up going to the track with my dad. The first major racing event I ever attended was the 2006 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs. I still remember that day vividly, and ever since, it has been a goal of mine to be involved in the top levels of the sport and connected to a horse competing in this championship event,” said graduating senior Daniel Deatrick, an equine major. “Once I started the program, I needed a place that would be willing to spend the time to teach me. At Maine Chance Farm, I started gaining experience with mares and foals in the spring, and eventually yearlings in the summer.”
One of his charges has proved to be a memorable one.
“With it being my first year of working with horses, I was generally assigned to the calmer horses. One of those was a yearling filly now known as Averly Jane. Her name on the farm, however, was Bacon,” he said. “I learned so much from working with Bacon and the rest of her group of yearlings. They helped develop my horsemanship and gave me the confidence to go on and pursue other opportunities in the Thoroughbred industry.
“I was lucky enough to take Bacon through the sales ring last October at Fasig-Tipton,” Deatrick said. “Getting to be at Keeneland that day (Oct. 10) to watch her qualify for the Breeders’ Cup was truly special. To have gotten to work with such an exceptional racehorse like this so soon is more than I ever could have imagined. I am grateful to everyone at Maine Chance and UK’s equine program for giving me the opportunity to learn and start working towards my passion and career. I have learned so much from all the faculty, staff and the horses at the farm in my time at UK. Of course, I am particularly thankful to Averly Jane, who helped fulfill that goal I set 15 years ago when attending my first Breeders’ Cup.”
See a video on Averly Jane by UK here: https://youtu.be/DZtqGvzs3Gk
See Breeders’ Cup coverage of Averly Jane here: https://www.breederscup.com/contender/112963/averly-jane
Note: In addition to Deatrick, Gansen and Irwin, many other former and current students were part of Averly Jane’s life while she was at UK, including Kaitlyn Bradbury, Alexa Jaramillo, Jacob Jaworkski, Miranda Kunes, Sterling Moore, Belle Samblanet, Brittany Sparks and Claire Wilson.