Janet Elliot

“Declare Your Wish. He’s the first horse I think of when I think of Janet Elliot. 

Sure, there were better ones, more accomplished ones, the champions, the stakes horses I rode for her (Flat Top, Victorian Hill, Campanile, Hodges Bay, Woodlast, Master McGrath, Talamero, Hokan…), the stakes winners I chased, the Grade 1 winners at Saratoga and everywhere else. But I think of Declare Your Wish.

I think of riding Declare Your Wish in 1993, my first and only year working for Elliot. I got on him in the winter, through the spring, through the summer and all through that fall. Not just me, Gus Brown, Jeff Teter, Britt Graham, a bunch of us rode him, like drawing the short straw. A talented horse, a rogue in his early days, he hadn’t run since finishing fourth in the 1991 Colonial Cup. Now 7, his legs were warm, mushy, tired. His body, at that point, looked like one of those horses you drew in elementary school, out of proportion, big belly, long head, short legs. He simply felt old. 

Last set, from the round-top barn on Bell Road, late afternoon. It was a shuffle, at best.  

Elliot kept going, slowly, surely, methodically, patiently. We thought she was tilting at windmills, we kept jogging, cantering up a hill on his good days, jogging on his bad days, walking on his awful days. By the dog days of summer, he was starting to stand up to it, beginning to string good days together, but I still thought it was outlandish, he would never get back to the races. I was 23, knew it all. Elliot was on her way to the Hall of Fame. She managed to get him to a flat race in September, then a hurdle race at Foxfield (he was last of four as I won on Victorian Hill), then he finished fourth, nearly 20 lengths behind Lonesome Glory, Highland Bud and Mistico (CHI) in the Breeders’ Cup at Belmont. 

What do they say, the sculpture is always in the rock? By November, Declare Your Wish was chiseled.  

I schooled him the day before the Colonial Cup, knowing it was my last day galloping for Elliot, I would not be back the next year, Steeplechase Times brewing in my mind, the long arduous hours withering my resolve. Teter guided Victorian Hill next to me, we ripped over three Cup fences in the training field at Springdale, two bullets pulled by magnets. There weren’t many who could go stride for stride, jump for jump with the leading earner of all time. Declare Your Wish went with Vic, actually dragged him ever so slightly. We pulled up, eventually, and jogged back to the center of the training field. Janet asked me what I thought, I said, “This horse wins the Colonial Cup.” Jeff, booked on Victorian Hill, scoffed. Everybody scoffed. 

Declare Your Wish and British jockey Steve Smith-Eccles won, drawing off by 5 lengths, setting a course record while Teter finished fourth on Victorian Hill and I finished eighth on longshot Quadrigeminal. Elliot had done the unthinkable, the unfathomable. That was her. That Hall of Fame touch – choreographing while coddling, marching while massaging, striving while saving. I had never seen a touch like hers. 

Elliot worked miracles with Declare Your Wish and so many others. There were horses who got to the races, won big races, won little races, who simply would never have gotten there without her. The way she schooled Campanile. The way she diffused Hokan. The way she tempered Alajmal. The way she nursed Victorian Hill through so many bouts of colic and other ailments. With Elliot, no was never an option.  

Tough and demanding, Janet put pressure on her help, her horses and herself. Make no mistake, it wasn’t easy on anybody, but as I’ve gotten older and, dare I say, wiser, my respect and admiration has only strengthened. Nobody did it better.”

  • Sean Clancy, Eclipse Award-winning writer, steeplechase owner and former steeplechase jockey

“Michael and I have known Janet and her life long partner, Jeff, for well over forty years. Janet came to Unionville from Ireland to work for legendary horsewoman, Betty Bird, ten years before I did. From there, she worked for Jonathan Sheppard for ten years before going out on her own and the rest as they say is history. Janet is so deserving of every honor that has been bestowed upon her, including this one. She is the ultimate role model for what life can give you back through hard work, determination, discipline, optimism and empathy. Her ability to get a horse to the races fit, schooled and ready whether it be a first time starter, coming back after a winter’s rest or back from injury is second to none. Janet’s attention to detail on so many levels is legendary. She leaves no stone unturned or spares no expense in the care and well-being of her horses. She has been and continues to work tirelessly as an inspiring and interested mentor and caring advocate to so many young jockeys, trainers, grooms and hot walkers. On top of all that Janet does professionally, she is a dear, kind and thoughtful friend to Michael and I and our three daughters. We are lucky to have a lifetime of wonderful memories of times spent together. After close to sixty years in the workforce, I am in awe of and amazed by her continued indefatigable spirit and simple joy for life. Congratulations, Janet, on the SheHero award. No one deserves it more.”

  • Anne and Michael Moran, Applestone Farm 

“Janet was one of my most valued and efficient horsewomen. She kept me out of trouble for a number of years and has remained a good friend.”

  • Jonathan Sheppard, Hall of Fame Trainer

“It would be easy for Janet Elliot to rest on her extensive accomplishments, the knockout being, of course, Hall of Famer.  Only two women have earned that title through riding or training, although other women were inducted this year for their long-standing contributions to American racing.  Part of what makes Janet a SheHero in American racing is the mentoring and support she has given to so many up and coming riders and horsemen, and the voice she’s given to the industry via the Steeplechase Owners and Trainers Association (SOTA).

Some of those long-ago riders are now trainers or lifelong horsemen and horsewomen.  Other former riders have gone into other careers, some around the horse industry and others decidedly not. All those who’ve entered Janet’s realm have encountered her high expections for the care of the horses entrusted to her care, not to mention etiquette, dress,and grammar.. I can’t imagine anyone walking away from Janet having learned nothing about horses, horsemanship, and especially, attention to detail.  All the details.

The past two summers, she has escorted the National Steeplechase Foundation’s Young Riders on a guided tour of various farms and culminating in a trip to Saratoga during the meet.  Organizing and traveling with other people’s teenagers is a tall order, but she had them dressed and presentable for the Spa paddock with a minimum of fuss. I’m positive they learned more by osmosis than they can explain now, but some of it will stay with them forever.

Her founding role in the Steeplechase Owners and Trainers Association (SOTA) helped unify owners and trainers around issues of great importance such as medication, safety, licensing, and the like.  This organization works with other organizations such as the National Steeplechase Association (NSA) and the National Steeplechase Foundation (NSF) to enhance the opportunities for horses and horsemen, and also to create a better, safer environment for all involved.

Janet Elliot could have stayed plenty busy training horses and winning races, but she always chose to create a better industry by helping others get a start and by bringing together those who could make the best decisions for the horses and riders involved in the sport.”

  • Amy J. Estey, Friend, former neighbor and “Frequent Happy Hour Companion”

“There are some horses that make our existence on this earth better. And there are some gifted horsemen and horsewomen who can manage those special horses and understand them better than anyone else, and it is those relationships that affect many. 

Janet Elliot and Victorian Hill were one of those special horse and trainer relationships that moved me and made me want to travel to watch them perform. 

When  I think about ‘the greats’ of my time in jump racing, Janet Elliot’s name is always in the same sentence as Jonathan Sheppard, Tom Voss, Bruce Miller, Sanna Neilson. 

I am so grateful to have met her and to have known some of the horses and riders who have had their lives changed and enhanced under her tutelage. 

She is a true horsewoman and industry SheHero.”

  • Will Phipps, Brook Ledge Horse Transportation 

“Janet is a perfect example of a SheHero as her training prowess speaks for itself.  Over the years her horses have won almost $9.5 million in purse money, and that’s not easy on the steeplechase circuit.

The list of top horses she’s trained is as long as your arm, and she deserves every bit of praise for her horsemanship as she’s the quintessential worker bee! I’m sure if you asked her, she wouldn’t know the last time she took a day off. Up until recently she also rode a lot of them at exercise too which often got her the comments of ‘You’re crazy, Janet!’ and ‘You’re still riding out?’

Her induction into the Hall Of Fame in 2009 was the icing on the cake, and everyone was delighted she was recognized for her amazing contribution to jump racing in America. And she’s not going anywhere yet!”

  • Sue Kenny, Herringswell Stables