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MICHELLE LOVELL

A picture with a pony at the age of two helped lay the foundation for the rest of Michelle’s life.

Photo: Hodges Photography

A picture with a pony at the age of two helped lay the foundation for the rest of Michelle’s life.

“Some guy used to come through the neighborhood with a horse, dress up the kids, and take pictures to make money,” she said. “That smell, it just stuck with me. I immediately became infatuated. As I got older I read a lot of books, sketched pictures and dreamt about horses.”

Once she was old enough, Michelle would walk to the nearby stables, clean stalls, groom and ride horses bareback. While in high school, her family moved to Georgia, and there she had her first exposure to Thoroughbred race horses at Cot Campbell’s Dogwood Stable.

Michelle broke babies in Ocala for several years and eventually galloped horses in New Jersey and Florida for Phil Gleaves, with the goal of becoming a jockey. She credits Rene Douglas, Herberto Castillo, Jr. and Hall of Famer Julie Krone for helping her develop as a rider. Michelle (then Hanley) won 137 races in the saddle, and was the leading apprentice at Gulfstream Park in 1990.

An injury following a freak accident at Retama Park forced her to hang up her tack and return to the world of breaking babies, and in 2003 she got her first opportunity as a trainer. She enjoyed immediate success at Louisiana Downs, Retama and Sam Houston.

“I kind of fell into it,” Michelle admits. “We got stuck with some horses who didn’t sell and the next thing you know, I was training them. I kept my eyes and ears open, used common sense and always put the horse first. Every person who has worked with me and every horse that I’ve trained has taught me something. It’s important to work in a happy environment. Your people and horses respond positively to that.”

The winner of 17% of her career starts, Michelle won her 500th race in April of 2021 at Keeneland, upsetting the Giant’s Causeway Stakes with Change of Control. In the summer of 2017 won the Grade III Pucker Up Stakes at Arlington Park with Fault, a horse she had claimed just a few starts earlier for $50,000. Lovell’s other top horses include Just Might, who is approaching $1 million in career earnings, and the super exciting 2-year-old Damon’s Mound, who won his debut at Churchill Downs by more than a dozen lengths and followed up with a victory in the prestigious Saratoga Special (G2). Her horses are stabled in Kentucky most of the year, but she has spent the last two summers at Colonial Downs in Virginia and she winters at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

It didn’t take me long to recognize that there was something special about the way Michelle and her staff handles their horses,” Brandon said. “Care, compassion, attention to detail. She just seems to have that “it” factor. Her horses enjoy what they’re doing out on the track, and her team knows how to work with each individual. In the back of my mind I knew when the opportunity to own horses presented itself, Michelle was the right fit.”

“Michelle leaves no stone unturned,” Natalie added. “When you see her on horseback every morning, you know that’s she’s in control. Her barn has a very professional environment. Her workers are all in sync. Happy workers = happy horses.”

“Brandon and Natalie complement each other very well,” Michelle said. “Brandon is up early every morning, clocking and evaluating. He lives it. Natalie has a great feel for the horse and what they need to be successful. I love that they’re making ownership affordable. I want the partners to come back to my barn and enjoy their horses and the entire experience. It’s a process and the journey. When you watch horses grow up, blossom and succeed, your heart swells. It’s a feeling that’s impossible to explain.”

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