Founder and President of Heart and Fire Racing, Kim Laudati is a true horseman from birth. Raised on a small farm in central New Jersey, she literally grew up in the saddle. While thoroughly enjoying jumping, horse racing was in her blood.
Earliest memories include rushing inside Saturday evenings to watch “Racing at Belmont” with the family, attending historic races like the Marlboro Cup at Belmont, when Spectacular Bid won, and watching living legends such as Seattle Slew, Ruffian, Affirmed, Alydar, Forego and others.
Instead of playing with Barbies, Laudati loved her ponies, her extensive collection of Breyer toy horses and preferred family day trips to Saratoga to watch the Hopeful over trips to the beach.
The Black Stallion series of books is well worn and resides on a bookshelf in her Nassau County home, alongside “Deep Through the Heart,” “King of the Wind – the Godolphin Arabian” and many more racing titles.
When did you first become interested in riding horses?
Apparently at birth. My mother has a picture of me where I am in diapers and she is holding me on the back of a pony.
When was your first victory as a rider?
As a jockey, my first win was at Hialeah Park in Florida on April 28, 1997 (yes, I had to look up that date) — glorious racetrack and such a tragedy that the surrounding town and the track itself did not evolve and survive with the times. Poor horse, he was such a warrior! Double bowed and suspensory issues too. We retired him after that race and I placed him in a “forever home” the following fall. I firmly believe in taking care of those that take care of me, especially when they have four legs versus two.
When was your first win as a trainer?
I’m so bad with dates that I honestly do not remember. I subbed in as name trainer on occasion for my mentor, Gary Contessa, when the need arose. So, in my head, I muddled the memory of my first “win” vesus my first WIN. It would’ve been one summer in the early 90’s.
How do you feel about race-day medication?
I truly believe in the British system of “no drugs to race on” that has been adopted by other foreign countries. While horses do bleed and Lasix has been a controversial subject for many years, if you take away the drugs, it will force trainers and owners into doing things differently.
More time will be dedicated to focusing on the horse’s welfare. Horses most likely will not make as many starts per year and the cost to “lay off” horses will also be a factor. Training tactics of making less starts and including purposely scheduled layoff time should make a majorly positive impact on the sport as a whole.
Unfortunately, many owners may not have the kind of money that it takes to properly train and care for a racehorse sans race-day drugs under the kind of racing schedule that I just mentioned, but does that really make any sense? In my opinion, here is the bottom line of the problem: too many mediocre horses are bred every year!
We’ve realized many years ago that spaying and neutering along with controlled breeding for cats and dogs is definitely a healthier and smarter approach to control quality and population, thus enabling as many of these animals as possible to have a qualified, loving home. Now I know a lot of people [will] say, “Oh, but the million-dollar horses can be just as badly conformed and not be able to run a jump.”
True, but we all also know that … it costs a lot more to own and train a “cheap” horse as it [does] to own and train a quality one. So, while there is no easy answer, removing most of, if not all of, race-day drugs will not only help the horses on a physically cellular level overall, but it will also level the playing field between the trainers that “cheat” and the ones that do not.
How long is it advisable to rest a horse between races?
It really depends on the horse. Classically, fillies are more delicate natured than the colts and geldings, so many will do much better on 30 or so days between starts, but there really isn’t any specific Golden Rule. Some horses get lazy with too much time between starts and some can’t handle running back in less than 5 weeks. Each horse, like each person, is an individual and should be treated as such for maximum performance.
Do you like being stabled at Belmont?
I love being stabled at Belmont! Although I’m a born and raised “Jersey bred,” just 20 minutes away from beautiful Monmouth Park, my father’s side of the family are all New Yorkers, so I spent my entire youth coming up to Belmont and all of the New York tracks.
I attended races to see the greats. I was so young, I barely remember seeing Seattle Slew, but I do remember, like it was yesterday, Ruffian, Affirmed and Alydar, Spectacular Bid winning the Marlboro Cup and so many more. Belmont, to me, was and always will be the stuff that dreams are made of.
I still get such a thrill out of driving in through Gate 6, between the old oaks. As a rider, rounding the far turn on Old Sandy, to look down that long homestretch, is like riding with the champion ghosts of the past, thundering along with you. The history just amazes me and it’s a pure blessing to be able to walk and ride the same paths that the champs of yesteryear — and current champions — live. Belmont is the country’s premier racetrack and it is a privilege to be one of its trainers.
Do you like shipping in to a Northeast track from Belmont?
I have always felt that you can ship to any track in the world from Belmont Park and be competitive. While some surfaces, like Aqueduct’s inner dirt, quite often take a horse a trip to get fit for it, if your training tactics are savvy enough, our facilities at Belmont offer you just about all that you need to be a force at any other track.
Who is your favorite horse that you ever rode?
Owens Troupe. Here was Walter Farley’s Black Stallion of legend come to life for me! I grew up reading that series (15 books at the time) and it still resides in a place of honor, on the top shelf of one of my bookcases, almost tattered beyond reading, but I refuse to let them go. I can recite them by heart, so you can imagine my shock and awe to find an almost perfect example under my own shed.
The very first year I worked on the backside was for Gary Contessa at Monmouth Park. I was 16, had just acquired my working papers from school and had harassed Gary since the summer before to give me a job. So, on the designated day, I walk in — it’s dark, 5:00am — and there is this huge, black colt standing behind his full screen.
I froze in front of his stall.
He rolled his eyes, showing the whites; he pinned his ears flat back against his neck, curled back his lips to show his teeth and breathed fire out of his flared nostrils. He reared and pounded the screen with his front hooves… and I burst out laughing.
Up shot his ears, he dropped to the ground and put his nose against the screen in amazement, with a loud and indignant snort. Who was this imp who dared laugh at all of his mighty rage? I slowly put my hand up flat against my side of the screen, against his muzzle and an unbreakable bond was formed.
Eight years later, at the age of 10, Gary and I retired him off of a win, eternally a champion and the love of my life. He won mainly New Jersey-bred allowance and stake races — 23 races won!
I miss him to this day and will never forget him. He was a burly colt, more in the looks department of Satan than The Black, with a coarse head and heavy body, but he was the sun and the moon to me. Gary yelled at me many times that first summer. I wasn’t actually allowed near his stall, as Owen was such a true rogue and holy terror, but I wasn’t going to let something like that stop me from taming the heart of that magnificent Black Stallion.
Although, throughout his career, he literally put employees in the hospital on a regular basis, including jockey Aaron Gryder with a twisted ankle, he never once ever tried to hurt me. I have many stories about Owen’s rage and also his courage. He taught me how faith, heart, trust and love can be had if only you are willing to fully give it yourself. I will never forget and I will miss him always.
Who is the favorite horse you ever trained?
It’s tough to pick just one. Every horse gives you something wonderful. Even the “bad” runners, the “cheap” horses, you learn from them every day. Pioneer Empire (the Pi) was a horse I claimed for $16K who won and placed in allowance and stake races, so he would be the logical choice.
Honestly though, from Nikki’s Halo to the Pi, Smokey is a Bandit to Jegos Fire, I love them all for sharing their love of running with me.
Oh, now I’m going to get into trouble! Ha, ha… um, my mentor Gary Contessa? Seriously, yes, Gary for all the magic that we shared under the shedrow for so many years, but Todd Pletcher too. I’ve personally known Todd since the year [the movie] “Titanic” came out (let’s not count please) and I’ve always been seriously impressed with him as a person and as a trainer.
Gary represents everything that I was and am and Todd represents a lot of what I want to be.
Man O’War. In my mind, he is the no. 1 greatest horse to ever set hoof on any track.
Your motto or words of encouragement for women entering the thoroughbred industry?
Dress and act like a lady, but work like a man.
If you trust in yourself and above all else, have faith, you will always rewarded in the end. Also, don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for you or give you a break because you are a female. You can’t expect to play with the boys and be coddled. Just be yourself, be honest and true to your mission, follow your heart and keep your head straight on business and all will be well with your world.