Kari Craddock is a woman in a field traditionally dominated by men. She doesn’t mind that a bit. One of the perks of the job is getting to wear jeans, boots and no makeup to work.

Craddock is a trainer who runs horses at the newly renovated Will Rogers Downs race track.

“I do the southwest,” said the South Dakota native. In addition to WRD she runs horses at Remington Park, Lonestar, and Oaklawn. “I moved down to Oklahoma in 1998.”

For Craddock, home is where the heart is, and her heart follows the horses. Calling no city her own, she lives in a 36 foot travel trailer. Her love of horses got her started in the business.

“I’ve had a horse since I could walk,” said Craddock.

In 1974 Craddock quit college and went to Florida where she “learned to gallop.” She got her trainer’s license in 1988 in Billings, Mont. She made the spring meet the first year Remington opened.

In horse training, “it doesn’t matter how much money you have,” said Craddock. She likes getting up early and being in the barn.

When it comes to the horses she trains, Craddock doesn’t care what they look like. Ugly or pretty, it’s all the same to her.

“One factor matters — how fast they are,” she said. “I have 17 horses at this meet. I usually keep between 10 and 20.”

This early morning at Will Rogers Downs, she is doing a lot of the basic work herself. The immigration issue and trouble with getting work visas means she’s short-handed on her work crew.

“We can’t do this business without our workers coming in,” she said. One other factor is vital to survival.

“You gotta have good owners.”

One of those good owners Craddock appreciates is Dave Faulkner who owns Rogers County Abstract. He and his partner, Hal Browning, have been very good to Craddock over the years.

“I’ve been with them since ‘94,” she said. “Hal and Dave kept me going for years. Owners used to stay with trainers, now there’s a trend to go with whoever’s the ‘hot’ trainer. A loyal owner is worth his weight in gold.”

Another local owner Craddock works for is Ralph Bruner of Tulsa.

Faulkner and Browning own Diamond Mine, a stakes winner that Craddock trains. Marlukin, another stakes winner was named for Martin Luther King, Jr. because he was born on King’s birthday. Four-year-old stakes mare, Annie Savoy, is the “best horse in my barn,” said Craddock.

The oldest in the barn is eight years of age, a claiming horse. Horses run “as long as I can keep them sound and running viably.”

“I’d love to keep them all around until they’re 8, 9, 10 , but that just doesn’t always happen,” she said.

The 8-year-old claiming horse has it pretty good. He gets to wear an electric magnetic blanket to work the soreness out of his muscles.

“He likes his blanket,” said Craddock.

Technology has changed some over the years, but Craddock said the horses require a lot of attention and it’s still a labor intensive business.

“There are no short cuts,” she said. The biggest gains technology has brought to horse racing is in veterinary diagnostics. There have been huge improvements over 20 years ago.”

Craddock’s workers get to the barn at 5:30 a.m. and get the horses ready. She’s there by 7. The busy time is from 7-11 a.m. when the track is open. When the horses come off the track, they are groomed, then rubbed down and their legs wrapped. If it’s not a race day, Craddock and her crew are back by 3 p.m. to feed, water and check on them.

“It’s not an easy profession,” said Craddock, “but it’s one I’ve maintained now for 18 years.”

She said there are more women training these days.

“They’re just the small end of the spectrum,” she said. “More owners are going to women trainers.”

Part of Craddock’s job is working with the jockeys like Alex Birzer and Ashton Fitzpatrick. Sometimes Craddock and a horse owner will pick a jockey together, but often the choice is left up to her.

“You need a jockey that appreciates your style of how you like your horses to run. I’m doing well in that category here,” said Craddock.

Birzer commented that the track was in good shape that morning.

“Every day I see the track here improving,” said Craddock. “They’re really trying. We’re all very optimistic on the backside.”

Jockey Ashton Fitzpatrick was at Oaklawn that day, but Craddock said Fitzpatrick is one of a growing number of female jockeys. Fitzpatrick races at Remington Park a lot.

“There are more women jockeys in Oklahoma than anywhere else,” said Birzer.

Craddock likes racing at WRD because there are “a lot of Oklahoma-breds here. It’s why I came to this meet.”

Perhaps her success has come because Craddock refuses to cut corners.

“It’s not mass production,” she said. “It takes lots of labor, lots of love.”

“There’s nothing else I want to do. I could do other things. There’s nothing better than getting up in the morning and working with horses and getting paid to do it,” she said.