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Published Dec 20, 2023
by Mike Henry
Trainer Chelsey Moysey and jockey John Hiraldo get happy with some of their four-legged friends: Boston Terriers Bailey and Chloe, goats Violet and Vinny and Moysey’s ‘Barbie Dream Horse,’ Apache.

There are days when trainer Chelsey Moysey and her fiancé, jockey John Hiraldo, feel the need to get away.

But caring for 26 Thoroughbreds on the Tampa Bay Downs backside and riding horses all day don’t leave much time for a swirling social calendar.

The couple made plans in August to attend the three-day TidalWave Music Festival on the beach at Atlantic City. It was an enjoyable escape from their regular routine at Delaware Park – while it lasted.

“We didn’t race Friday, so we stayed that night for the concert,” Moysey said. “The next morning we went back and trained the horses, and I had a few in and he had some mounts, so after the races we went back and finished the vacation for one night.

“That’s what we have to do, because we can’t be too far away from the horses,” she said. “But my anxiety level probably wouldn’t let me be away from the barn that long, anyway.”

That week-long Mexican cruise Hiraldo would like to take with his dream girl? It’s just a pipe dream, for now.

“I wake up, get my job done in the morning, lose my weight and go to ride, and that’s all I have to worry about,” said Hiraldo, son of retired jockey Joel Hiraldo. “Chelsey will be here at the barn at 3 a.m. until 11 or noon, and she might get 20 phone calls in 10 minutes from her owners.

“When it comes to her job, I see things from a different point of view than before I met her. Communicating with the owners, making the schedules for the horses, staying on top of the conditions – it seems like there is no end to it,” he said. “I wouldn’t have the patience to do it.”

Moysey, 30, and Hiraldo, 22, who have been together 2 ½ years, decided to come to Tampa Bay Downs after struggling mightily last winter at Oaklawn Park. Moysey’s stable won only two races, and at times she felt as if all her best horses were being claimed. Hiraldo won only once.

“It was brutal for us. We figured if we were going to do bad for the winter, we might as well be warm doing it,” Moysey said.

Training in Oldsmar represents a homecoming of sorts for Moysey, who worked here for six years as an assistant to since-retired conditioner William “Buff” Bradley (best-known as the trainer of two-time Eclipse Award Champion Female Sprinter Groupie Doll) before starting her own stable in 2019.

Moysey, who started with Bradley toward the back end of Groupie Doll’s career, relished the chance to exercise such Bradley standouts as multiple Grade I winner Divisidero and multiple graded-stakes winner The Player. Getting attached to that kind of quality was easy, and Moysey, a lifelong horsewoman, took advantage of the chance to absorb as much knowledge as possible from her boss.

“There was never a time when I worked for Buff that I wanted to be anyplace else. I still call him quite often to talk about horses,” she said. “If I had one horse like any of his best horses, I’d probably be the happiest person alive.”

Moysey said “it’s surreal, for sure” to be stabled in the former Bradley barn, where her two favorite palm trees still frame the entranceway to the stables. Does a 30-year-old experience nostalgia? In this case, you bet. “I have a lot of memories of a lot of big wins, and the location near the racing office and the track kitchen is good. There’s a lot of grazing ground in front, and it’s a little more private,” she said. “I guess you can say it’s nostalgic coming back.”

Moysey and Hiraldo had strong summers at Delaware Park, with the conditioner posting a fourth-place finish with 19 winners and Hiraldo making 32 trips to the winner’s circle, good for seventh place.

Moysey has won 74 times in her career, while Hiraldo has ridden 166 winners. They shared their only stakes victories in the 2021 White Clay Creek Stakes at Delaware with Lewis E. Mathews, Jr.’s 2-year-old filly Red Hot Mess.

As often happens to first-year trainers and owners at Tampa Bay Downs, Moysey and Hiraldo have found the early going rocky as they attempt to compete against rivals who (in Moysey’s case) have years of experience crafting a stable to fit the track’s general eligibility conditions and (for Hiraldo) know the ins and outs of Tampa Bay Downs’s deep main dirt surface and its turf course, both of which are subject to change based on weather, maintenance routine and other factors.

Hiraldo has yet to ride a winner here, while Moysey has saddled one: John Conforti’s 3-year-old gelding April Fools Andy, who captured a $54,000 allowance/optional claiming race on Dec. 9 on the grass with Carol Cedeno aboard.

Cedeno got the return call to ride April Fools Andy after piloting him to an upset victory on Oct. 12 at Delaware. Hiraldo knows it’s all part of the game, but he wouldn’t be human if it didn’t bother him not riding the winner for Moysey.

“Especially when I’ve known all of (Moysey’s) horses since they were young, I’ve been on (April Fools Andy) in the mornings and he is very talented. He probably is the best horse in the barn,” Hiraldo said. “But he won, so I’m happy. Carol is a good friend of ours, and I’ve won a lot of races for that owner, so it’s all good.”

Moysey and Hiraldo know there will be other times when she is forced to use another jockey on her horses.

“It’s not something that happens too often, but there are times when a rider has put a lot of work into a horse and you have to have that discussion,” Moysey said. “It can be hard to make those decisions. But you want to do what is best for the entire team. We have people who work for us who make money off our wins, and they put as much effort into these horses as we do.”

Being a jockey is often a thankless job, with the best in the sport winning about 20 percent of their races.

“They can know they did nothing wrong in a race, but the end result isn’t good and (an owner) will get someone else to try next time. That’s heartbreaking,” Moysey said.

Hiraldo is up for the challenge, especially when he sees how much Moysey puts into her job. She devotes the same care to every horse, searching for the key to the winner’s circle while treating them with love and dignity.

“She always wants the best for her horses, and I think that is what is most important,” Hiraldo said.

Almost four years ago, Moysey became aware through social media of a 2-year-old Palomino paint horse residing in Texas, about a 4-hour drive from Oaklawn Park. Seeing his emaciated condition stirred a combination of sadness and outrage. So Moysey hitched her vehicle to a trailer – just a month after the arrival of Covid-19 – intent on rescuing a horse that appeared to be destined for slaughter.

While equine “kill pen bail-outs” have become big business, according to some reports, Moysey had to do what she thought right. She paid $500 to purchase Apache, her stable pony who at just over 17 hands is a striking presence.

The gentle giant “is capable of doing everything,” Hiraldo said. “Whether it’s shows or taking a horse to the pole. … he has come a long way, and she’s taught him everything he knows.”

“I call him my ‘Barbie Dream Horse’ because he is what I always wanted,” Moysey said. “I’ve taken him on trail rides and horse shows and chased cattle on him. He’s done a little jumping, and kids can get on him and ride him around.

“He’s just a good dude. I could never replace him.”

Her involvement with horses isn’t stopping Moysey from branching out into. … cooking. Hiraldo is young enough and fit enough to eat almost anything within reason, and about a week ago Chelsey prepared a prime rib roast with asparagus and sweet potatoes. “I never made a whole roast before. It was amazing,” she said.

Hiraldo agreed. “As soon as I got home, the food was served. It’s something I appreciate a lot because she knows how hard it is to go all day not eating much.”

Both are optimistic they will soon be eating better in a figurative sense, when the on-track results start turning their way.

“We’re trying to get a feel for everything here,” Moysey said. “The worst thing a trainer can do when things are going bad is to start questioning themselves. Streaks come in waves, and the next wave will roll through and it will be a lot better.”


Trainer Chelsey Moysey and jockey John Hiraldo get happy with some of their four-legged friends: Boston Terriers Bailey and Chloe, goats Violet and Vinny and Moysey’s ‘Barbie Dream Horse,’ Apache.

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