It’s been 10 years since her final thoroughbred race, but for Jillian Scharfstein, love for the sport and love for all things horses hasn’t waned in the least. The decision to hang up her riding silks was hardly an easy one for the Saskatchewan native. But, as Scharfstein admits, it was certainly the right choice.
Since 2006, the lifetime winner of 99 races has led an interesting life, to say the very least. And, as you might expect, horses still play a big role in it.
You finished your riding career with 99 wins, including some memorable stakes scores. Any regrets?
“Ninety-nine, can you believe that number (laughing)? I was looking at my stats on Equibase about a year ago and I saw that I had 99 career wins. There was a part of me that said, ‘Why don’t you lose five pounds, head to Marquis Downs, and get that 100th win?’ There’s no doubt it was hard to leave. I loved Woodbine and I loved what I did. But, there’s a point where you have to listen to what your body is telling you and I made the decision to retire. It wasn’t easy. I think moving back to Saskatchewan was a good idea because if I had stayed in Toronto, there would have been no force strong enough to keep me away.”
There were some great highlights that you can look back on. What are some of the ones that top your list?
“Winning the (Grade 3) Durham Cup with Norfolk Knight in 2004 was amazing. I have every win photo of his on my wall. He was just a great horse. He gave every single thing he had, every ounce he had, on the racetrack. He was always playful with the ponies on the track, so you had to keep an eye on him. On the backstretch, I would always go see him and give him his peppermints. He would flip out if he saw me and I was heading to another trainer in the barn to work one of their horses. He was just a great horse in so many ways.
“Millfleet (Scharfstein won the 2004 editions of the Bunty Lawless and Deputy Minister Stakes with the son of Compadre) was another one I’ll always remember. He’s a half-brother to Norfolk Knight. He was small, but he had plenty of fire. Flashy Anna (the duo finished second at 16-1 in the 2004 Passing Mood Stakes) also stands out as another one that I loved riding.”
It’s obvious you still have a deep love for horses.
“I really do. After I retired, I’ve been around horses a lot. I bought a Hunter horse. His mother was the first horse I broke. We ended up selling him. I also bought a Warmblood, which we eventually sold, too. I have a colt named Bonifacio, a German Riding Pony, who is still a stud. We’re hoping to breed him.”
You’ve also introduced your daughter Charlotte to horses.
“I bought a miniature Palomino from Manitoba. He’s about 36 inches. He’s so sweet and quiet. We named him Sheldon and he’s been such a great addition to our family. Charlotte has really taken to him.”
You’ve been quite busy since you retired. How rewarding has that been?
“I went back to school soon after I stopped riding. I went to the University of Saskatchewan to pursue a Psychology degree. I went for three years and decided that I was ready for a break. Now, I’ve gone back to school, this time at the University of Regina — I moved to Regina a year ago – to get my full Practicum in social work. I actually missed my first day of classes because I was in the hospital giving birth to Charlotte. Thankfully, they were very understanding. I also groom and train dogs (Jack Russells), something I’ve done for the past four years, which also keeps me busy.”
How much do you miss life in the saddle and the racetrack?
“A lot. I galloped a fair bit when I came back to Saskatchewan, just helping out where I could. I miss a lot about being at the racetrack, the people and the horses. I still watch all the big races and I still go to the racetrack when I can. Thankfully, I have a lot of great memories and some wonderful pictures to remind of how much enjoyment it gave me.”