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A 'runaway' winner, successful North Dakota horse trainer has no intention of slowing down

After a string of victories with her thoroughbreds, Debi Hanson, 69, of Crosby, is racing horses again on the final weekend of racing at the North Dakota Horse Park. She was recently given a special

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Debi Hanson is a long time trainer of thoroughbred race horses.
David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO — Horse trainer Debi Hanson recently pulled off a feat not often seen in the world of thoroughbred racing.

Of the nine starts at Chippewa Downs racetrack in Belcourt, North Dakota, in June, her horses won six times.

Hanson, 69, from Crosby, said it’s always hard to win a race.

“Every time you win, it's the same ecstatic feeling,” she said as she tended to her horses in a barn at the North Dakota Horse Park in north Fargo.

She’ll run several thoroughbreds in the weekend finale there of the Fargo Festival of Racing on Saturday and Sunday, July 30-31.

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For her work and accomplishments, Hanson was given a handcrafted silver and turquoise belt buckle.

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Debi Hanson's horses recently won six of nine races at Chippewa Downs in Belcourt, North Dakota, and track steward Tuck Miller gifted her a handmade belt buckle he’d made in honor of his step-grandmother, who was once a jockey.
David Samson / The Forum

“I nearly cried … that Tuck made it in memory of his step-grandmother, that she was a jockey,” Hanson said.

“Tuck” is Tuck Miller, who lives in northern New Mexico and is a contract worker for the North Dakota Racing Commission.

He’s officially retired but for the past 10 years has worked as the chief steward or referee for horse racing in the state.

Miller and his wife, Robin, came up with an idea of doing a special buckle in honor of his step-grandmother who adopted him at a young age and raised him.

Myrtle Gann was one of only a handful of women jockeys in the 1940s and '50s and sparked Miller’s lifelong love of horse racing.

The buckle was originally going to be awarded at a race exclusively for North Dakota women trainers, jockeys and owners, but they weren’t able to garner enough entrants.

Instead, Miller decided it should go to Hanson, who had the most wins for the season at Chippewa Downs.

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“She was a runaway there … so it was an easy decision,” he said.

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Debi Hanson spends time with her horse, Bluegrass Soul, at the North Dakota Horse Park on Thursday, July 28, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

Hanson owns and cares for seven race horses with her husband, Dan, on a farm near Crosby in the far northwestern corner of the state.

She brought five of them to Fargo, including Tipsy at the Bar who races Saturday and Railroad Dan who runs Sunday.

Perhaps her favorite, Bluegrass Soul, has made around $90,000 from racing.

There are only 10 horses in the U.S. currently racing that are 10-year-old mares, Hanson said, and Bluegrass Soul is one of them.

“She’s like the happiest horse I’ve ever had,” Hanson said.

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Debi Hanson leads Bluegrass Soul through the barn at the North Dakota Horse Park on Thursday, July 28, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

Hanson has been racing for more than 40 years.

She started with barrel racing, then bought a racehorse and began hanging around at horse tracks.

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She was also ponying horses, where a person rides another horse that leads the thoroughbreds to the starting gate, then worked her way into becoming a full-time trainer.

That involves feeding and caring for the horses, deciding which ones should be entered in which races and making sure they’re properly prepped leading up to race day.

Two different people could have the same horse and have entirely different results on the race track.

“You have to notice the little things,” Hanson said.

That work ethic and attitude have served her very well.

“She does such a good job, and it's year after year. She's always very competitive,” Miller said.

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Debi Hanson takes Bluegrass Soul outside for some fresh air at the North Dakota Horse Park on Thursday, July 28, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

This year, Hanson's racing season started in May in Miles City, Montana, brought her to Belcourt in June, Fargo in July and will wrap in Winnipeg in September.

It’s a lot of work, with all of the travel and logistics required. Her husband tends to the farm during the week and travels for the races on the weekends.

How long will she keep this up?

“Oh gosh, as long as I can,” Hanson said with a smile.

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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