Saratoga Springs

Tax season ends, Spa season begins for exercise rider from Ukraine

Krushevska gallops horses for trainer Al Stall, including stable star Tom's d'Etat
Exercise rider Olha Krushevska gallops Tom's d'Etat for trainer Al Stall Jr.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Exercise rider Olha Krushevska gallops Tom's d'Etat for trainer Al Stall Jr.

Categories: Saratoga County, Sports

SARATOGA SPRINGS — As an accountant, Olha Krushevska works in a world where current assets are part of the equation.

On Wednesday morning, she sat on one.

And patted his neck.

Then he demonstrated a high level of liquidity, coolly and smoothly getting in gear for a gallop on the Saratoga Race Course main track, one of the classiest Thoroughbreds in North America acting as such.

Krushevska, a 25-year-old exercise rider from Ukraine, is experiencing her first summer in Saratoga, while working for trainer Al Stall Jr. One season begat another, as she wrapped up work helping backstretch workers fill out tax returns by Wednesday’s deadline, on the eve of the start of the Saratoga meet.

With the hectic final push of tax season over, she can concentrate fully on working horses in the morning for Stall, including Tom’s d’Etat as he points toward one of the biggest races on the Saratoga calendar, the Grade I Whitney on Aug. 1. Accounting now becomes more of the side gig, and Krushevska is enjoying her first Saratoga meet while being an important part of the team that keeps the Tom’s d’Etat books in order.

“Most of the time I’m spending here, at the racetrack, and also in the afternoon I’m a tax advisor, so I’m doing taxes and helping people around the racetrack, which is great,” she said on Saturday morning. “So I can combine my two parts of life. I can get the thrill from riding the horses and then I can come back into the calmer job.

“He looks great, he’s feeling great, so we all hope that he’s going to be our champion.”

When asked to confirm that doing tax returns isn’t as exciting as galloping racehorses, she laughed and said, “No. Unfortunately.”

Then again, as much of a privilege as it is to be on a horse like Tom’s d’Etat every morning, the 7-year-old goes about his business without a hitch, so Krushevska’s piloting duties can be pretty mundane and routine.

“Most of the good horses, they’re really smart and they’re really calm,” she said. “It feels like they know what they’re doing over there. Sometimes, the rider, all you have to do on those horses is sit there and look good. Because they know everything to do, especially older horses like him.

“Like today, we went to the track, and he would stand there, relax, easy jog back, gallop with no problem, nice and easy going back. Al even said, when he was a baby, he’s always been that way. And I think it’s important for the horses to have their minds in the right place. When you have a horse who’s relaxed, they’re saving that energy to give it to you when they’re working.”

There are no racetracks in Ukraine, where gambling is illegal, but Krushevska rode in the hunter and jumper classes.

After finishing her undergraduate studies at home, she attended UCLA to earn her master’s degree. Eager to continue her equestrian pursuits, she sought opportunities in the Los Angeles area to get on jumpers.

One of her jumper trainers introduced her to a Thoroughbred trainer, and Krushevska spent a year at Old English Rancho near Fresno, California learning the landscape of a Thoroughbred barn and how to gallop the racehorses, a profound change from the jumpers.

“I did everything,” she said. “I learned everything over there, how to groom, the whole thing with the horses, which I think is a great experience.

“Oh, it was a really big transition, because those horses [jumpers] are very calm and it’s very low chance of getting injured or something, because they’re almost like trail horses. Most of them are really calm. Here, you get more thrill. You get more excitement, you go fast, you know? It gives me more energy, it gets my blood running. I would say that, you know?”

Once Krushevska became proficient enough on Thoroughbreds, she was approved to gallop horses in the mornings at Santa Anita Park, mostly for trainer Keith Desormeaux.

After five years as an exercise rider on the California circuit, she decided to give Kentucky a try, and that led to her Saratoga assignment.

“I had never been to Kentucky, so I went to check it out, at Churchill, and I met Al Stall, which is a great team. He needed a rider to come to Saratoga and it worked out pretty good for us,” she said.

“I just met her,” Stall said. “I’d seen her around, and she asked me about wanting to come to Saratoga, and I said, ‘Yeah, that would be a good idea.'”

Most exercise riders in the U.S. are from this side of the Atlantic Ocean or the United Kingdom, so it’s unusual to find someone from Ukraine.

Krushevska’s given first name is Olga, but a foul-up with her international travel papers led to the ‘g’ becoming an ‘h,’ and she has stuck with that.

If her last name appeared on a quiz, Stall would fail it.

“It’s like those two Twin Bridges; it starts with a ‘K,’ I know that,” he said with a laugh, referring to the I-87 Thaddeus Kosciusko Bridge crossing over from Albany County to Saratoga County.

Even more unusual is her work as a tax advisor, for someone whose morning job is to work racehorses.

She said this season was particularly crazy, complicated as it was by having to account for stimulus checks in some cases.

“I had some clients, and my heart was breaking because the cost of the returns, I was trying to put the cost as low as I can, because a lot of people struggle,” she said.

“I had a couple clients who wouldn’t be able to afford even the minimum payments. It was amazing, because they couldn’t pay to file the taxes to get the stimulus check. Like I said, I almost had a heartbreak.

“But I did my best for those people, and I did it for free sometimes, and then when they get money, they can pay me back. So in this hard time, I think we all need to stay together and help each other as much as we can.”

Krushevska said she enjoyed the benefits of a large Ukrainian community in the Los Angeles area and would like to explore that here, although time will be short before heading back to Kentucky.

By then, Tom’s d’Etat, the star of the barn, may have greatly bolstered the income of those associated with him.
Krushevska said she’ll be gratified simply by being a part of the team.

“I’m truly enjoying my time around this track,” she said. “I love the people and the atmosphere over here, and when you get the chance to get on big horses like that … honestly, I treat all of them like a Kentucky Derby horse. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big one or not. That’s important, and it gives me a pleasure, you know?

“You always have that pride and that feeling that, honestly, I’m just grateful to have that opportunity to be a part of making history.

“Whatever he runs, he’s going to be our champion, our hero.”

Reach Mike MacAdam at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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