While growing up on her parents’ farm in Maryland, Kate DeMasi always had an affinity for animals, especially horses. She’d pore over articles about horse trainers, but pieces on females in this male-dominated profession were few and far between.
“Back in the ‘70s, there were hardly any women trainers,” said DeMasi. “I’d read about women jockeys and trainers breaking barriers. When you consider where we’ve come from the past 50 years, it’s pretty amazing.”
Currently, DeMasi is one of those women breaking barriers in the industry, which has become a bit more inclusive in recent years. DeMasi, a horse trainer based at Parx Racing, is not only a Hall of Fame inductee, she has well over 1,000 wins to her name.
Still, DeMasi remains humble, and stressed the fact that preparing a horse for victory is truly a team effort. She has a staff of about 25 individuals who help groom and train the horses of her clients.
“All the people who work for me are an interesting blend from all walks of life, so that’s a wonderful thing that we have at the race track. Whether you’re 18 years old or 81 years old, we’re all part of the same team.”
On a daily basis, DeMasi and her team make sure the horses are cared for and ready to hit the track for their next race. This isn’t something that can be done the day before. Rather, training is an ongoing, individualized process.
“Everything is culminating to that point. We tend to develop a lot of young horses to race. Some clients raised a baby horse at a farm and, at eight or nine months, we’re teaching them from the ground up. It’s innate in them to want to be race horses,” said DeMasi. “And we figure out what works. Do they prefer racing on the inside or outside of the track? It’s all part of the day-to-day.”
DeMasi compared her role to that of an athletic coach, and the grooms to assistant coaches … except their players have a few extra legs than the Eagles and Phillies. It’s their job to ensure the horses are fully prepared for race day.
“I think any time your success is based on whether you win or not, that can be a little tough for anybody. Hats off to any of the sports, they practice and then they get to the game and lose … In our game, it’s the same thing. We’re all striving to win, so when you don’t win, it can be a little stressful,” she said. “There’s a frustration level sometimes when you’re trying to develop a young horse or figure out a horse who maybe isn’t performing its best. But we’re like coaches, and we can’t blame the team.”
Still, the stress is all worth it when a horse that DeMasi and her team trained wins a race.
“It’s really, really gratifying,” she said.
Even when one of her clients sells a horse, making it a competitor to her current racers, she’s still rooting for it. After spending so much time with these animals on a daily basis, it’s hard not to grow a little attached.
“You really get to know your horses,” said DeMasi. “You get to know what they like, how they like to compete. But I think the grooms probably get a little more attached than I do. There’s a certain part of you that does have to remain a business person and make decisions about the business for the good of the horse and the good of the client.”
DeMasi started working out of Parx Racing after lending her training skills at Delaware Park and other tracks throughout the Philadelphia and New Jersey region. In fact, she was at Parx before the construction of the casino in 2006.
2016 saw DeMasi become the first female trainer to be inducted into the Parx Racing Hall of Fame, which she is currently the chairman of. Additionally, DeMasi is a board member of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, also based at Parx.
For DeMasi, her success in Bucks is enjoyably ironic. During her upbringing in Maryland, she met some kids who moved there from the county. Decades later, she still remembers how they all wore Flyers hats.
“It’s funny how Bucks County has played a weird part in my life because not only did they become lifelong friends, but we try to get together, my girlfriends and I from the past, we’ll go to some of the places in Bucks County. We’ll do a day trip,” she said. “And now I work there. Whenever I hear ‘Bucks County,’ I always go back to that time.”
According to DeMasi, if a small-town girl from Maryland could rise the horse racing ranks like she’s done, then anyone can do it. They just have to put in the work. DeMasi recalled how, back in the day, the only way to inquire about entry-level jobs in the industry was through landlines and letter writing. Now, there’s easy access through email and various social media channels.
“I think those interested should get exposure to it and find out if that’s really what they like. One thing about working with animals, particularly with horses, is that it’s not a 9-to-5. It’s 24 hours. It’s just like having kids. They need to be fed, they need to be cared for everyday. So even on your ‘day-off’ day, there’s still a team of people to care for those horses,” she said. “You just have to put yourself out there to learn.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com