Helen Pitts-Blasi '93
Helen Pitts-Blasi, class of 1993, is sitting in a golf cart just outside the Churchill Downs paddock in late June. She’d run two horses earlier that day; Broadway Breeze finished fourth, Clandestine Fury was second. With nothing entered in the remaining races, she’s got time to talk.
“Being at Oldfields,” she reminisces, “was a lot of fun.”
A true Maryland-bred woman – she grew up on a horse farm not far from Oldfields – Pitts-Blasi now finds herself firmly part of the Kentucky Bluegrass as a thoroughbred trainer whose horses have raced at the sport’s highest levels. She’s travelled the country to racing’s premier events, and her résumé includes wins in multiple Grade 1 races, the most competitive and prestigious in the game.
Pitts-Blasi comes from a horse family: her father was a steward at the Maryland tracks and rode in hurdle races, while her mother “did everything,” including hunting, riding flat horses, and training her husband’s steeplechase horses.
Their daughter took after them, fox hunting as she grew up and branching out to other types of riding. “I rode at Oldfields,” she recalls, and “sometimes I’d take green horses there for my mother to ride, to get them ready for showing. Senior year, I’d leave the first two periods open in my schedule so that I could go gallop horses for Charlie Fenwick, then come to School.”
Fenwick was an accomplished steeplechaser rider, having won the Maryland Hunt Cup five times and My Lady’s Manor thrice. After college, Pitts-Blasi worked with Fenwick when he was training horses.
“One summer he didn’t have enough horses,” she recalls, “so I didn’t go back to work for him and I went to the racetrack, something Dad never really wanted me to do.”
After working in Maryland for six years, Pitts-Blasi followed the horses to Florida in the winter, getting a job with Kentucky-based trainer Ken McPeek. “I was planning to come back to Maryland after that, but he talked me into trying Kentucky.” she says. “Kenny had a bunch of really nice horses and I was galloping for him. When his former assistant moved to Chicago, I stayed in Kentucky to continue working for him.” Working as McPeek’s assistant brought Pitts-Blasi in contact with a type of horse she’d not encountered before. “I’d never been around horses that could take you to Breeders’ Cup,” she said, referring to the annual races that often lead to year-end championships. “I went to the Breeders’ Cup my first year in Kentucky; I was around some really nice horses and it was enjoyable.”
Pitts-Blasi worked for McPeek for six years; when he took some time off from training to become a bloodstock agent, she took over the training of some of his horses, and then went out on her own.
Among the first horses she trained were Curlin and Einstein, and they are the horses of which racing dreams are made. Pitts-Blasi trained Curlin to a win in his very first start. The horse was so impressive that he was immediately sold, reportedly for $3.5 million, and the new owner took him out of her care, not an uncommon occurrence, if a disappointing one. Curlin went on to finish in the top three of each of the 2007 Triple Crown races, culminating in winning the Preakness. He also won the Breeders’ Cup Classic that year and earned four year-end Eclipse Awards in 2007 and 2008. He earned more than $10 million on the racetrack.
The same people that sold Curlin had another horse with Pitts-Blasi, a Brazilian-bred named Einstein, whom she would train for every start of his career. Einstein was retired last year after winning five Grade 1 races for her and earning nearly $3 million.
“Einstein was the best, there was nothing like him,” she smiles. “I was the one who rode him every morning for training; he was so energetic.”
“He wasn’t just a great racehorse, but he had the best personality, like a human. His stall was right next to my office. If I rolled my chair, and he heard me, he would whinny because he loved peppermints. He was the best; he had a lot of personality. I’ll never find another one like him.”
Though Pitts-Blasi doesn’t have a “big horse” in her barn now, she’s got 30 horses in her care, and she had what she called a good summer. “I’ve got a nice two-year-old, Pride of the Chapter, who won two races this summer, and Stage Magic won a couple, too.”
Based full-time at Churchill Downs in Louisville, she and her horses generally spend the winter at the Fair Grounds track in Louisiana, though this winter will be a little different for her.
Pitts-Blasi was married two years ago to Greg Blasi, an outrider at Churchill Downs. They had their first baby in December 2010, a daughter named Olivia.
The horses and her assistant will pack up and head down in early December, and she’ll go back and forth as soon as she can..
She’s still in touch with many of her Oldfields friends, a number of whom attended her wedding, and her roots are in Maryland; her mother still lives in Monkton, on the same farm on which Helen grew up. She recalls with affection her time in Glencoe.
“Riding at Oldfields was incredible; I loved the program, and I usually rode in the spring because I played field hockey in the fall. It was exciting, a lot of good years, and so many wonderful people.”
Her time at Oldfields was, she said, “some of the best years of my life.” And given her prodigious accomplishments since then, that’s saying something.
- Teresa A. Genaro