Rachel Slevinsky sighs at the recollection of her first career race.

The apprentice rider knew that winning her debut would be a tall order. It certainly wasn’t out of the question as the six horses made their way to the starting gate for the sixth race at Century Mile in the early evening last July, but it would take a perfect trip and a little racing luck to see it come to fruition.

Slevinsky, aboard 19-1 Cuvee Tee, the longest shot on the tote board, had dreamt of this moment for years, hopeful it could produce the fairytale-type ending she had played out in her mind in the days leading up to the seven-furlong sprint over the Calgary oval’s dirt track.

That isn’t how it would play out.

The bay mare, then four, hopped at the start, causing Slevinsky to slip out of the irons.

At the wire, the Cuvee Tee was fifth of six, passing a tiring foe late, four lengths back of the fourth-place finisher.

“Most of the time, nothing goes to plan. Even if you’ve mapped out a race in your head, it never seems to play out that way the majority of the time. That’s how it kind of went in my first race. Luckily, I had been on the horse in the mornings, and I knew her pretty well. She was known for being a little finicky in the gate, so when the gates opened, she took that hop.”

Slevinsky, however, found a silver lining in the off-board result.

“She took care of me. When I got back in the stirrups, she held her path. She could have ducked and dived or run off with me, but she took care of me. She tried her hardest and that’s all I could have asked for.”

Two months to the day after her first race, the apprentice had a far more memorable outcome when she teamed with the dark bay mare Sophie McTrophy in the first race at Century Mile.

Sent on her way at 6-1, the daughter of Declassify dueled with another rival early, put that one away, then moved clear of her five rivals ahead of the stretch run and coasted home to an easy four-length score in the 6 ½-furlong main track race.

“It was a great moment. You always wonder what that feeling will be like and it was even better than I imagined.”

The native of St. Albert, a city in Alberta on the Sturgeon River northwest of the City of Edmonton, spent countless hours on her grandparents’ farm in Bonnyville, a two-and-a-half hour’s drive northeast of her home, during her childhood days, a place where her riding horses stay throughout the year.

Slevinsky’s introduction to racetrack life began at 16 when she started out as a groom for trainer Jerri Robertson before going on to gallop for various barns.

She wasn’t expecting her part-time gig to turn into a riding career, at least early on.

“It was a summer job, which helped pay for my riding horse and other things,” she recalled. “But then I fell in love with it.”

Months later, she was on the path to earning her riding license.

Upon graduation from the jockey training program at Olds College in Alberta, Slevinsky was mentored by Nancy Jumpsen, who won the Sovereign Award as Canada’s champion apprentice in 1985.

“It was a fun journey to get to the point where I could ride in my first race.”

After competing in her native Alberta, Slevinsky, just a little over a year after her debut, moved her tack east where she will look to make her mark in Ontario, competing at both Woodbine and Fort Erie.

Part of a crowded and competitive Woodbine jockey colony has meant stepping up her game and showing trainers she’s capable of keeping pace against her more seasoned contemporaries.

“It was tough because to them, I am just another face, just another helmet. There are a lot of riders and a lot of big riders here at Woodbine. It’s not an easy job to start with and it’s even tougher when you are an apprentice. Back home, I was galloping for people that I had already established relationships with. Here, I needed to create those relationships. I had to show everyone I galloped for what I was capable of doing with each horse.”

That persistence and perseverance, coupled with her personable nature, has paid off.

“You start to earn trust, to have people see my strengths and give me a chance. I’m also left-handed, and there aren’t as many bugs or journeyman who are left-handed by nature. I’m always a happy person, so I have never had an issue with anyone. They have all been kind to me. I think that helps as well.”

As do her performances on the racetrack.

So far, her efforts, both in the mornings and afternoons, have yielded a successful campaign to date.

Slevinsky won her first Woodbine race with 11-1 A Gal For T J, trained by Tedston Holder, to a front-running score in a 1 1/16 mile turf race on June 15.

The victory came on her 24th birthday.

“She took off and she was awesome. That was a great feeling to draw away. And to win it on my birthday was extra special. And it was also my only ride of the day. I couldn’t have asked for a better moment.”


A woman riding a chestnut racehorse.Gal for TJ and jockey Rachel Slevinsky winning on June 15, 2023 at Woodbine. (Michael Burns Photo)


On July 5, she posted a two-win day at Fort Erie.

“I got the early double… also, the only races I rode that day. So, that was my first daily double. It was pretty cool.”

Hard work remains the foundation of the five-pound apprentice’s approach to her craft.

So too does maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

On Thursday, after getting on seven horses on a hot, humid July 5 morning at the Toronto oval, Slevinsky was happy to remain outdoors, albeit in a more laid-back setting ahead of a late Thursday afternoon card at Woodbine.

“I do like to unwind a little bit, to reset for the day. Usually, I’ll take my dog out for a walk or during the summer, I like to sit outside in the sun. I have a couple books that I like to read every now and again.”

No need to guess the theme of her reading material.

“They’re horse books,” she said with a laugh. “For the most part, I like to sit out in the sun and read the program. Riding can be very stressful, but I love what I do, so I am just really grateful to all the people and for all the opportunities that have come my way. Everyone has been very kind and I’ve enjoyed riding every horse that I’ve been on.”

Even the ones with unmistakable eccentricities and peculiarities.

Slevinsky welcomes the challenge.

“I just get along with those crazy horses. I don’t know what it is about them, but I can get them to calm down. I think I’m able to understand them in ways maybe some other riders can’t. The tougher, older horses, and the babies, when they are happy and they know they are safe, they run a lot harder for you.”

As of July 5, she has eight wins from 46 mounts, along with 20 top-three finishes.

Although it’s over a four-hour flight from Toronto back to St. Albert, Slevinsky is feeling right at home at Canada’s Showplace of Racing. ​

“I want to keep going, win races, and win the big races. This is just the beginning. I haven’t really broken the surface yet. It’s been incredible so far and I can’t wait to see where my career takes me.”