By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)
Shannon Beauregard’s 900th win as a professional jockey did not come without hard work, long days and enormous pain.
And yet, as she continues through her 16th season riding thoroughbreds, Beauregard wouldn’t trade her life for the world.
Especially after winning her 900th race aboard a horse trained by the first person “ever to believe” in her.
Tuesday night at Assiniboia Downs, the place where she won her first race in 2004, the 38-year-old from Montreal was thrilled she could win for Tom Gardipy Jr. Bringing Yesitsmejohnny G from the middle of the pack to a decisive two-length win over a field of nine, Beauregard displayed the courage and guile with which she’s ridden throughout her career.
“Every time I ride for him, I really, really want to win for Tom,” said Beauregard, who quickly won No, 901 with a decisive victory aboard another Gardipy horse, Gold Digger Darling, in the first race on Thursday. “He’s the person who had faith in me, the man who gave me my shot.”
Beauregard grew up in Montreal and wanted to be a jockey from the age of five.
“From the moment I saw The Black Stallion on TV, I told my mom, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to ride horses,’ she said. “I never rode a horse until I was 12. I rode ponies at a rehab centre where my mom worked. Then, at 16, we moved to Regina, and at 17, I started riding in Saskatoon for Joe Kaswatum. Then I went back to school.”
When she started, she rode in Kamloops and Grand Prairie. She eventually got her jockey’s license at Hastings Park in Vancouver, but just couldn’t get enough mounts.
“It was a real struggle,” she said. “I couldn’t get rides and I’d just hang around the jocks room hoping someone had given up a ride. I was begging owners and trainers to put me on their horses. It was hard. And then Clint and Judy Wilson and Alf Webster said, ‘Why don’t you try Winnipeg?’”
So, in 2004, she gave Assiniboia Downs a shot and in May of that year, aboard a horse named B-Trap, she won by a comfortable five lengths. Thanks to ASD and the fact she met Tom Gardipy Jr., she had a win and was establishing a career. By the end of that first season, she had 42 victories at ASD and was easily the top apprentice at the track.
However, her career has not come without incredible physical pain. Early in her career, she got tangled up coming out of the gate, slid off the mount and had the horse step on her ankle. It was broken, but she rode the entire meet despite the injury.
In 2012, she suffered a major concussion in a riding accident and was out of action for 18 months. Three weeks after she returned to the track, a horse flipped on her and she tore her ACL.
“I took a few days off and then rode with it,” she said matter-of-factly. “At the end of the season, I went and got a new one.”
In 2014, she was thrown from a horse and broke her back and doctors did not believe she’d ever ride again. She declined surgery, slept on a recliner for a number of months and let the injury heal on its own. She was soon back in the saddle but then broke her back a second time.
“I’m working on all of my spine,” she said with a sinister laugh. “I broke vertebrae two-to-eight the first time and then nine and 10, the second. In total, I’ve probably missed four years of my 16-year career with injuries.”
These days, she’s part of a flying jockey caravan that races at both ASD and Century Mile in Edmonton. She heads to Edmonton every Friday with Antonio Whitehall, Rafael Zenteno Jr., Wilmer Galviz and, on occasion, Rico Walcott for cards on Friday and Sunday nights Then, the group will get back on the plane in Edmonton on Monday morning and return to ride Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights in Winnipeg.
“It’s OK, we see each other at the airport and that’s about it,” she said. “Most of them like to ride up front where it’s pretty crowded. The planes are usually about half full, so I ask the airlines to put me in the back. Not many people like the back of the plane so I have plenty of space to myself. The last thing I need is to get COVID to go along with all those injuries.”
It’s hard to imagine anyone who works harder. Beauregard not only rides five-to-six mounts on the nightly cards, she also gallops horses in the morning. In fact, her only morning off is Monday, the day she flies back to Winnipeg. She gallops every other morning, every other day of the week and rides in her silks on Friday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Her biggest fans are her sister Valerie and niece Cassandra in Edmonton, and her mom Rhonda back in Montreal. The whole family saw her win No. 900 on Tuesday.
“They couldn’t come to the races, but Valerie and Cassandra made me a banner to put on the horse,” Shannon said. “They’re such big supporters.”
At Assiniboia Downs this summer, Beauregard is sixth in the jockey standings with 18 wins, 14 seconds, 11 thirds and $156,885 in winnings in 115 starts. She’s also sixth at Century Mile with 10 wins, 12 seconds, seven thirds and $82,935 in winnings in 68 starts.
Along with her agent, Shane Ball, she doesn’t have to beg anyone for rides anymore. And despite all of her injuries, she has no desire to hang up her tack anytime soon.
“I wouldn’t change a thing about what I do,” she said. “Nothing compares to riding horses. It’s my life. I love it. I just love it.”