Nichelle Milner: “Horsemen Are Family”
Jockey Nichelle Milner was paralyzed for seven months when she suffered a broken back in 1989 and a broken neck in 1992 following accidents during her riding career in the U.S.
But she never allowed it to break her spirit. Milner is the newest member of the Hastings Racecourse management team and says of her appointment as Racing Secretary: “This is a very coveted job and I take it extremely seriously. It’s very sacred to me.”
Milner comes to Hastings from Portland Meadows, where she worked through the ranks as Paymaster, Entry Clerk and Assistant Racing Secretary and Quarter Horse Racing Secretary over an 11-year period. “I was in the racing office when I got a phone call from Human Resources asking if I knew anybody who might be interested in the Hastings posting, “ Milner says. “My immediate reaction was: ‘I sure do … me! I knew I was ready for the challenge.”
Born in San Gabriel, California, Milner was introduced to racing as an eight-year-old when her parents owned quarter horses at Los Alamitos. “I decided on my first visit to the barns that I wanted to be a jockey,” she says. “I had a mission and when I put my mind to accomplishing something, there’s no stopping me.”
After moving to Oregon as a 14-year-old, the five-foot-two Milner was galloping horses upon graduating from high school and in her typical feisty fashion, she decided to pursue bigger and better opportunities. “I took my helmet and my whip and headed for Santa Anita,” Milner says. “I literally talked myself onto the back side and within a year I had my jockey license.”
Milner boldly told Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas that she would one day ride for him and when he said, “Oh, really?” that was all the inspiration she needed.
“Within a couple of days I was at Hollywood Park galloping horses for Mr. Lukas’ son Jeff,” she says. “In 1989 I won my first race on my first ride in Portland.”
Then came the injuries, the agonizing departure from racing and her eventual return to the front office at Portland Meadows.
Milner officially moved into her Racing Secretary office at Hastings during the first week of May. She describes her mindset and philosophy as being quite simple. “Horsemen are family,” she says. “Their livelihoods are at stake and I get very upset when there are horses sitting in the barns not getting a chance to run. I’ll do whatever it takes to contribute to the success of Hastings Racecourse.”