SHAKOPEE, Minn. (WCCO) — This week, America will celebrate our freedom.
For one jockey at Canterbury Park, it will also be occasion to remember those who sacrificed to protect it. WCCO’s David McCoy has his remarkable story.
Mornings at Canterbury Park are a busy time. This is when the horses and jockeys get their work in. It’s hard work and sometimes dangerous. But for the right person, it’s good work and a good life.
“It’s hard to explain. It’s just you get on the horse and get that connection. It gets in your blood and you love it,” jockey Jareth Loveberry said.
Jareth Loveberry grew up working on a horse farm in Michigan.
“Started racing when I was 17 right after I graduated high school,” he said.
It’s his first year here, but he’s already getting a reputation — people at Canterbury talk about Jareth like he’s a natural.
Perhaps that’s because the dedication he shows to the work is driven by something very personal: A connection to a brother he hasn’t seen in nearly 13 years.
“I always looked up to him, and he was always protecting me in school, and he was just always a protector. And then he went off to war when he was 20,” Loveberry said.
Jareth’s half-brother, Justin Ellsworth, three years older, joined the Marines. And as it turned out, on Nov. 13, 2004 in Fallujah, Iraq, he had other brothers to protect.
“They were on a mission, and they were coming back to base that day. Metal detector went off, and they spotted an IED in the road. And he went and covered himself over it to protect his other brothers,” Loveberry said. “And he saved a lot, a lot of lives, that day.”
Jareth was working at the horse farm that day.
“And the boss came in and said you guys can go home. I was like, ‘We’re not done yet.’ He’s like, you guys can go home,” Loveberry said.
When Jareth’s parents shared the news, he was crushed.
“Just, hit the floor,” he said.
But not surprised. That’s the kind of person he knew his brother to be.
“That’s my brother, that’s what he always did, protecting people,” he said.
Jareth’s jockey career soon took off. Just seven months after Justin’s death, he got his big break on a day of all days.
“I started my first race I ever rode was on his birthday. He would’ve been 21 the next year. It was meant to be,” Loveberry said.
His career brought him to Canterbury for the first time this season. His first win came early on, but not his biggest. That was this one, aboard the No. 4, “Java Chick.” It came on May 29, Memorial Day.
“Memorial Day is to remember the ones we’ve lost in war, and my brother, being lost… It’s just I wanna do it for him, and it’s just awesome,” Loveberry said. “That’s probably the best day to win on for me.”
Exactly a week after he was in the winner’s circle, Jareth was in the White House.
“We got a call a few weeks before it happened. And my mom said, ‘Do you want to go to the White House?’ I’m like, ‘Yes.’ She’s like, ‘Well I didn’t tell you what day.’ I’m like, ‘It’s OK, I wanna go,'” Loveberry said.
Jareth’s family was one of 50 families invited to a ceremony at the White House honoring Justin and other Gold Star families, who lost family members at war.
“Had dinner, met the President. And it was just very honoring, humbling experience. We’d go in the room, and he’d be like, ‘I bet your brother was a great man, and it’s very honoring meeting the families that have sacrificed everything for this country and there’s no repaying you. All’s we can do is say thank you’ and, it was just very honoring,” Loveberry said.
Jareth tries to honor Justin by carrying his memory with him. In his heart, and on his horse, every time he runs a race. Like that one back on Memorial Day.
“It’s funny, that day, the philly was really nervous. She was acting up, and I just said, hey Justin, I need your help. She needs to relax. We just need to relax her just a little bit,” Loveberry said. “And so, quite a bit I talk to him, just to watch over me. Because I’ve always felt like he’s been there protecting me, like he always has when I was a kid. So I try to keep him there when I’m racing too.”
Jareth is now currently the leading rider at Canterbury. His next race will be on Tuesday, on the Fourth of July.