UK Graduate Off to 'Flying Start' in Horse Industry

photo of Julie Witt with horse
Recent UK graduate Julie Witt is one of only two U.S. students awarded the Godolphin Flying Start scholarship for 2019-2021.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 21, 2019) The University of Kentucky Office of Nationally Competitive Awards has announced that 2019 equine science and management and animal sciences graduate Julie Witt has been named one of this year's 12 recipients of the Godolphin Flying Start scholarship, a prestigious two-year thoroughbred industry management and leadership program. Witt is one of only two participants selected from the U.S. with the other 10 men and women hailing from Ireland, Australia, France, Japan, Argentina and the United Kingdom.

Godolphin Flying Start offers participants experience in management operations and leadership training in the global thoroughbred industry with phases in County Kildare, Ireland; Newmarket, United Kingdom; Sydney, Australia; and Dubai, as well as Kentucky. The course is accredited by University College Dublin Michael Smurfit Business School as a graduate certificate in management. Fifty percent of the program's graduates have gone on to work globally as managers or CEOs in the industry's media, racing, breeding, bloodstock, sales, consultancy, veterinary or marketing fields.

The daughter of Joe and Nancy Witt of Freehold, New Jersey, Witt was a member of UK’s Lewis Honors College. She earned her bachelor’s degrees in equine science and management and animal sciences, as well as a minor in agricultural economics, from UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment in May.

Horses have been Witt's passion since she was a small child.

"I was diagnosed with refractive amblyopia, a form of lazy eye, in my right eye in kindergarten, and had lost enough vision that I was considered legally blind. I had to patch to correct my vision, and my parents used riding lessons as an incentive to get me to patch more willingly. I started riding around right before I turned 6 years old and have been trying to find any way to get around horses ever since."

Witt grew up riding lower-level hunter and equitation show horses, re-starting off-the-track thoroughbreds with her riding trainer, working at local horse shows, and going to the racetrack with her family. At 15, she started shadowing a racetrack veterinarian at Monmouth Park, and continued to do so in the summers throughout high school.

With an undeniable love of horses, it is not surprising Witt's trail led her to UK for its equine program and location in the heart of horse country. Once arriving in the Bluegrass, her interest in the thoroughbred industry grew and she decided to take advantage of all the opportunities UK and Lexington had to offer.

On campus, Witt served as an officer of the Horse Racing Club and completed an editorial internship with Bloodhorse Publications for her major. As a Chellgren Fellow, Witt conducted undergraduate research with Associate Professor Jill Stowe in the Department of Agricultural Economics. Under Stowe's leadership, she studied profit-maximizing decisions for the commercial thoroughbred breeder, specifically focusing on what ratio of stud fee to mare value yields the highest rate of profitability when the breeder goes to sell their foals/yearlings at auction.

"Dr. Stowe helped introduce me to a facet of the industry that I quite frankly didn't know existed prior to attending UK. After speaking to her, I looked into equine industry related economics more, and became hooked. I now am in the process of writing a paper with her on our research and am committed to making industry economics a part of my career in the future. I cannot thank her enough for sharing her passion with me and always being willing to give advice and support, regardless of the topic."

Off campus, Witt worked 25-30 hours a week to gain as much experience in the horse industry as she could. In the fall of 2015, she helped prepare broodmares and broodmare prospects for the sales with James Keogh of Grovendale Sales. She continued to work with Keogh the rest of college, preparing mares and foals, hiring and managing prep staff and working the sales. Witt also partnered with him on two mares.

In addition, Witt worked on three of the world's top thoroughbred breeding farms, Coolmore America's Ashford Stud, WinStar Farm and Three Chimneys Farm. From April 2016 to May 2018, she got her first exposure to a commercial thoroughbred farm and the international side of the industry working with mares and foals at Coolmore. The first foal Witt ever helped deliver during her freshman year at at the farm was Omaha Beach, an early favorite for this year's Kentucky Derby before having to scratch due to a throat issue.

"He (Omaha Beach) was the first one I helped foal out and quickly became my all-time favorite," Witt said. "I always tried to spend a little extra time with him and followed his career closely from the start. Seeing him make it that far has been one of the most rewarding, and frankly, craziest experiences of my life.

"To stand as part of the crowd at Churchill Downs in the morning watching him train or get a bath, and know I was a very small part of the group of people who got him to that spot was pretty incredible for lack of a better word. I'm lucky enough to know a lot of the people who had a hand in his upbringing, and they're some of the best horsemen I know, and it has been awesome getting to share in this with them. We spend so much time with these horses and take care of them as if they were our own, so when one makes it to the 'big' time, it makes all of that hard work worth it. Throughout all my jobs I've discovered what I love most is teaching young horses and seeing them grow, and hopefully, succeed, and he is the ultimate reminder of why I do what I do."

Witt next post was at WinStar from May to December 2018, starting out preparing yearlings for the sales and then helping start and ride yearlings for their racing careers. In January, Witt started working at Three Chimneys, as she raced to the finish of her last semester at UK. There she gained experience related to stallions and the breeding shed and was lucky enough to make it to over two dozen foalings.

Throughout her time in college, Witt volunteered at Old Friends, a retirement facility for off-the-track thoroughbreds, saying she tried to "give back in whatever way I could to the animals that give us so incredibly much."

Grateful for her many mentors, including Stowe, Keogh, Bob Davis at Ashford, David Hanley at WinStar, and Chris Baker and Sandy Hatfield at Three Chimneys, Witt hopes to one day provide the same type of experience for the next generation of the sport.

UK students interested in Godolphin Flying Start may apply through the university's Office of Nationally Competitive Awards. Part of the Chellgren Center for Undergraduate Excellence within the Division of Student and Academic Life at UK, the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards assists current UK undergraduate and graduate students and recent alumni in applying for external scholarships and fellowships funded by sources (such as a nongovernment foundation or government agency) outside the university. These major awards honor exceptional students across the nation. Students who are interested in these opportunities are encouraged to begin work with Pat Whitlow well in advance of the scholarship deadline.