Written by: Chris Lomon

Colleen O’Hagan works her magic at Marquis Downs.

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A self-confessed student of the game, trainer Colleen O’Hagan is earning top marks for dedication to her craft and big-time results on the racetrack.

Thirty-one starts. 12 wins. A 39 per cent strike rate. A top-three mark of 61 per cent.

A quick scan of the 2016 trainer standings at Saskatchewan’s Marquis Downs gives excellent insight into the campaign that the 29-year-old O’Hagan enjoyed.

But there’s much more to the story than just head-turning stats, gaudy numbers and a closing-night triumph with Trill Point in the 56th running of the Saskatchewan Derby.

“I became interested in horse racing by accident,” started O’Hagan, who hails from Allan, SK. “When I was 18, I was asked to gallop at Marquis Downs. Until then, I had never watched a horse race in person. The only races I had ever seen were on television. I had always ridden, but the racetrack was completely new to me. But I was instantly hooked. My horse background gave me some of the knowledge I needed so that I wasn’t completely in the dark, but it was a huge learning curve, to say the least.”

And there were a few bad breaks, bumps and bruises along the way. Literally.

“I galloped and broke horses for about nine years,” recalled O’Hagan. “I had a broken pelvis from a gate schooling accident, a broken wrist, and too many concussions to count, but I loved every minute of it. In 2015, I wrote my trainer’s test and started a small barn of my own.”

Things have taken off since then.

Two years ago, O’Hagan won four races, along with eight top-three finishes, from 14 starts at the Saskatoon oval.

There was no sophomore jinx in 2016, a year highlighted by the curtain-closing stakes triumph.

“My biggest win so far would be the Saskatchewan Derby,” she offered. “Although that’s a favourite, I value most when I win races with horses that I have had from the start. It’s a huge accomplishment for me to break a horse, take it to the track and have it break its maiden. At times I know I get a little too attached to my horses, but I try to do right by all of them. I think I demonstrate that by knowing when to call it quits with a horse. I also try to find all my retirees great homes at the end of their racing careers. My boarding stable is full of retired racehorses and their new owners.”

O’Hagan’s success has attracted the attention of owners at Marquis Downs.

“This year, I acquired horses from Dark Cloud and Pink Cloud Racing,” she said. “I’m very fortunate to have them as clients as well as friends. Pink Cloud holds a BBQ fundraiser once a year at the racetrack to help raise funds for the Wellness Centre at Saskatoon City Hospital, which helps give breast cancer patients much-needed support. I’m one of the few North American trainers that Pink Cloud has horses placed with, and I‘m very grateful for their ongoing support.”

Life is indeed busy for the young trainer. But life is also good.

The demands of thoroughbred racing don’t allow for much free time, but O’Hagan isn’t complaining.

“I also run a large boarding stable very close to Marquis Downs,” she said. “The business has been an asset to my career in horse racing and vice versa. I also ride and train jumping horses and teach riding lessons. When I have time, I like to compete in show jumping. I love to travel and hope someday my racing career will take me down to the States. Horse racing is a lifestyle. I’ve smiled a lot when we’ve won races and cried in the stalls of lost horses. At times, I’ve missed out on events with my friends and sometimes the late nights and early mornings take a toll. But would any of us have it any other way?”

There’s no need to ask O’Hagan what her answer is.