Jason Avila is a contest and tournament player in horse racing who learned to love the sport early from his grandfather. A graduate of the University of Arizona’s Racetrack Industry Program, Avila is currently co-owner of Custom Upholstery Elements in California and an ongoing regular player in tournaments such as the National Horseplayers Championship. Learn more about Jason in this fun Q&A.
What I do for a living: Manufacture custom furniture/upholstery for commercial spaces.
What I like about Thoroughbred racing: The main attraction for me is and always has been the horses. I love the competition, the atmosphere, the mental exercise of predicting race outcomes and the vibe at the track, but I’ve always been an animal person. I grew up in Pico Rivera, a city in southeast Los Angeles, that had an area of ranch properties. There was a man who would walk his donkey around the neighborhood charging a couple bucks to take a Polaroid pic with his donkey. I never liked taking pictures but I remember being really interested in this “little” horse. When I saw a Thoroughbred for the first time… game over. I was hooked!
If I wasn’t in my current job, I would be a: In the racing industry as a bloodstock agent/racing manager or pinhooker.
Best advice to someone considering becoming a Thoroughbred owner: Racing is not a low-risk investment opportunity. Align yourself with honest and knowledgeable people that will help you decide what part of the ownership game best fits/interests you – acing, breeding, pinhooking, etc. Dip your toe in the water with partners and/or friends first. Be prepared for the highest highs and the lowest lows.
Should the Breeders’ Cup rotate from coast to coast or have a permanent home: Ultimately, I think change and the ability to change is good. Permanency hasn’t fared well for the industry in general. The Breeders’ Cup is not an exception to this and should rotate.
Most influential person in my career: My grandfather. He introduced me to my passion early on. It kept me out of trouble more than I could ever imagine. I never liked school. He took me to the track and taught me how to read the Daily Racing Form at a young age. It put me on a path that led to the University of Arizona’s Racetrack Industry program, a degree, and most importantly a personal growth experience.
My out-of-the-box idea for Thoroughbred racing: Unify and create a governing body/commissioner to focus on modernizing the industry. It will never thrive on the antiquated framework it continues to operate on.
Other sports/teams I follow: Los Angeles Kings, Wheelers (my beer league hockey team), Los Angeles Dodgers
My favorite athletes of all time: Wayne Gretzky, Deion Sanders, Wally Joyner
What book(s) I am reading or have recently read: “Icecapades” by Sean Avery
Favorite magazines: GQ
Hobbies away from Thoroughbred racing: Traveling, exercise (Orangetheory & hockey), cooking, cleaning, golf, DIY projects, auto detailing
Favorite movies: Movies tend to bring out some narcoleptic tendencies. I don’t watch many.
Favorite TV shows: All things Bravo
Favorite foods: Sushi, chicken tacos, fajitas, ice cream
Favorite vacation spot: Tulum, Mexico
Favorite musician/band: John Mayer
Favorite actor: My mom
Five websites I visit daily: Maharem Textiles, Thoroughbred Daily News, DRF, CNN, UK Daily Mail
I’d like to have dinner with the following three people outside of racing: Any three stewards. It’s likely one owes me at least dinner and some drinks for a bad DQ.
I’d like to have dinner with the following three people outside of racing: Wayne Gretzky, Magic Johnson, Snoop Dog
Best racetrack food can be found at: Santa Anita carved sandwiches, on the ground level just behind the winner’s circle. The off-menu green salsa is bomb...keep it on the low low, supply is limited.
Accomplishment I am most proud of: Since we’re on racing… it’s qualifying for my first NHC in 2017 and finishing in the money (58th). Love it or hate it, the NHC includes many of the elite handicappers around. To grind away for three days and stay in contention against the best players is an accomplishment that would make my grandfather smile and one I’ll always be proud of.
My philosophy on life: Be kind and positive. Be prepared and work hard. See the world.
Things I collect: Passport stamps and frequent flyer miles.
Favorite authors: I’m usually reading past performances.
Favorite animal other than a horse: Cats
Favorite non-Thoroughbred racing sports event I have attended: 2012 Stanley Cup Finals. In 1993, I discovered my second passion, hockey. Wayne Gretzky, the Los Angeles Kings and rollerblades were all the rage. I was heartbroken when the Kings lost in the finals to the Montreal Canadiens that year. A lot of losing followed that, but it was amazing to finally watch them win the Stanley Cup for the first time 19 years later – Go Kings!
Three words that define what Thoroughbred racing means to me: All the feels.
Top three fashion brands: Pretty much whatever fits best. No allegiances except for Le Labo 33 (cologne). A black T-shirt keeps things simple and eliminates a lot of wardrobe decisions for me.
Favorite month of the year: The colder ones.
What apps are on your phone: Starbucks, Waze, Uber, Orangetheory
Favorite summer cocktail: Casamigos Blanco on the rocks
Favorite winter cocktail: Woodford Reserve on the rocks
Favorite all-time racehorse: Sunday Silence
Favorite racehorse currently competing: Yoshida – I’m always rooting for that Sunday Silence blood.
Favorite international racing event: Hong Kong racing in general has always been fascinating to me.
Three ways to attract more fans to the sport: Focus on making a day at the races a top-rate experience that isn’t always available. Reduce the amount of racing and focus on quality in all areas (food & beverage, customer service/experience, facilities, gambling/racing opportunities). Part of the allure of the Kentucky Derby, the Breeders’ Cup, and other boutique meets is that they only happen once a year or during a short period of time. The majority of new fans are not going to the racetrack more than a few times a year, especially if the experience isn’t first-class every racing day.
What do you drive for a car? A truck
What’s your favorite gym exercise? Nothing really. Just like to get it done and enjoy the energy of good health.
Who will win the Super Bowl this year? If I knew, I’d take the rest of the year off and travel!
Esports: Yay or nay? Sure, if it’s Tecmo Bowl, R.B.I. Baseball and 90’s NHL for Genesis.
Favorite restaurant: Mastro’s Steakhouse
Last TV series you binge-watched was: “Breaking Bad”
College or pro football: College tailgating is tough to beat.