If you took away all the noise from the city, the bustle of cars and the people in its wake, you could probably hear the sounds of the ocean from Gulfstream Park; the racetrack is just a stone’s throw away from the white sandy beaches that stretch the eastern coast of Florida. If the world went silent you could hear the crashing of the waves as they break upon the shore; some coming in as quietly as a wave can, unassumingly pushing the ocean water up on the beach. Others build a rolling power from deep out in the water and break upon the shore in a thunderous roar before retreating back to the depths whence they came. There is no telling what the next wave will bring, how big or small it will be, loud or quiet, or what treasure that wave will leave upon the sand for the tiny moment it rests there before it slides back into the sea.
Gabby Sanchez, a Jockey Agent at Gulfstream Park, loves the ocean; she loves it as much as she loves horse racing. Both have provided Gabby the perfect place to heal and move forward from a tragedy that changed the course of her life. Horse racing to ignite her heart once again – and the beach to calm it.
Gabby grew up in racing, the daughter of a groom and assistant trainer, sleeping in feed rooms and watching horses run from the time she was born. She grew up, like most kids in the business, with a familiarity for racing that one acquires when it is part of your every day life. She learned to read a program and began to study the art of handicapping. “[Handicapping was] something that kept me interested in racing,” Gabby says, “growing up I didn’t have a choice to be involved; my parents were in it and I was always at the track, so what better way to make it fun?”
She had plenty of practice refining the art of handicapping in her youth, but then at the age of eighteen, Gabby walked away from horse racing for a time being, exploring life outside the track.
It was during that time away that her life was intertwined with Andy’s; over the course of four years the pair dated on and off – a love the kind that comes along once in a lifetime. Gabby admits she never had a desire to get married but, when it came to Andy, she could see it as a possibility.
In early January of 2016, Gabby’s phone rang and the voice on the other end told her Andy’s house was on fire; devastatingly, the man who captured Gabby’s heart left just as quickly as he had come in to her life. For two weeks, as the community investigated the death and media swarmed the incident, Gabby relived the loss every day.
“Moments like that… it’s up to us to decide what the right step is,” Gabby says. “We either let that fill us with anger and hate and have these feelings that don’t benefit us – or we do what we need to do in life to rise above it. It was just one of those things that when life knocks you down you find the best way to keep crawling and moving forward.”
And that’s exactly what Gabby did. Out of the ashes of a horrific loss, she somehow found the ability to inch forward; she put in her two weeks notice at her job and called up an old friend, looking for a change: “I needed to do something – something that ignited that spark in me that gets me to move forward.” In one week’s time, thanks to that friend, she was at Ruidoso Downs handicapping Quarter Horse Stakes races, back to racing, back to the only thing that could bring her heart back to life.
At Ruidoso, Gabby met her first jockey who took her on a journey to California and then Florida where she fell in love once again – but this time she was in love with a place instead of a person. “A lot of people saw it as running away, but I never saw it as that,” Gabby recalls of her move. “No matter where I go the pain is always going to be there. I needed to find a place that could bring me peace and happiness and allow me to start living again, and I love horse racing and I love the beach.”
Gulfstream Park and Southern Florida became the perfect sanctuary as things just fell into place and, although being a Jockey Agent was never on Gabby’s radar, it’s actually perfect.
Being a Jockey Agent requires all the skills Gabby has, including the gift of gab (something she says is vital to success in her profession). She is able to strike up a conversation with any trainer, read them, and know exactly how to sell them on why they should chose her jockeys to ride their horses. But a lifetime in racing gives her a whole different leg up on the competition; Gabby understands racing. Her years of studying handicapping as a kid into adulthood allows her to know where her jockeys will make the biggest impact. She can look at a horse’s last performances and figure out where a trainer may send them next and swoop right in with the perfect pitch for her jockey. “It’s almost like a game of chess,” Gabby says “I have to be two or three steps ahead of the trainer. I’m pretty much always handicapping my own races.”
The challenges of winning over trainers, and working in a male dominated field, doesn’t faze Gabby; instead she uses it to fuel her passion. She grows stronger, more persistent, and more creative every time trainers turn her down; there isn’t much that can stop this agent.
“I have a lot of little goals before the ultimate goal to keep it at a level that isn’t discouraging. Of course I want my jockey to win the Kentucky Derby or Breeders’ Cup, but it’s the smaller goals that keep me moving forward, [I want to] make an impact in the business as a female and do it in a way that doesn’t compromise who I am as a person.”
Every day Gabby moves closer to those goals with a great lineup of jockeys, like Martin Ramirez (a very successful Canadian transplant), and trainers that look to her for winning rides and also some fresh faces waiting to break into the sport through her guidance and skill.
After a long day at Gulfstream, at the sport that brought Gabby’s heart back to life, you can find her on the beach, her peaceful oasis.
The ocean is one of the greatest forces on earth; it can be both quiet and relaxing or thunderous and deadly. At any moment, the waves can gently lick at the shores, reminding you at the edge of the ocean that you are but a small piece of a greater puzzle, that all things ebb and flow like the tide. In the same breath they can crash over top of you, knock you off your feet and threaten your very existence. Either way, in that fleeting moment when the wave hits its crescendo on the sand there is a split second before it slips back into the ocean. A moment of stillness where, standing at the edge of the sea, we have to dig our feet in and prepare for the next wave; it is something Gabby Sanchez has mastered:
“If these are the cards I was dealt with I believe it was made for me to be a better, stronger, person. We don’t ever want to lose people we love, but we have to accept that the people we love are only in our lives for a temporary amount of time – a minute, a week, a year, ten years, or the rest of our lives. It’s not our job to wonder why this person was here for this moment of time and not for longer; it’s what they brought into our lives that we can walk away with that can help us.”
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