Thoughts from a journalist

The complete and utter truth about my experiences as a horse racing journalist

To be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure what I want to do for a career. One thing is certain: I want to work in the horse racing industry. But I also want to travel, speak Spanish, be around horses, continue writing and work with people. If someone could please design a job to capture all of those things in one awesome package, it would be very much appreciated!

I’m grateful that I’ve had so many opportunities within the horse industry to try my hand at a variety of jobs and internships. The majority of them have been communications-related, but each one has taught me a number of different skills and lessons.

One of the most rewarding and challenging jobs I’ve ever done is worked as a journalist.

I cringe every time I see a blog titled “An open letter to ‘whatever blippity blah’…” because it’s so overdone, so I don’t want this to sound like that. However, I would like to lend my readers a bit of insight into the human interaction standpoint of journalism. I’ve met wonderful, sweet, kind, loving and thankful people. I’ve rooted for them, shared their emotions and sometimes even tears – internally more-so than outwardly because I have to remain unbiased. This piece is about my day-to-day work as a journalist at Saratoga Race Course this summer and last.

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Scanning the horizon for my next interviewee. Linzay Marks photo

You see me in the mornings, walking from one end of the racetrack to the other, always on a mission. One second I’m strolling past the clocker stand of the Oklahoma Training Track, on the hunt for a trainer, and the next I’m clear across Union Avenue, standing by the Morning Line Kitchen.

Only a few hours later you’d hardly recognize me. Like the racetrack version of Cinderella (except looking for horse owners, trainers, jockeys, anyone but a prince) I’ve transformed my baseball cap with a  tangled pony tail sticking out the back, jeans and dusty hiking shoes into a dress and curls. “Somebody’s wearing makeup today,” an acquaintance coyly comments as I walk into the paddock. In reality I’m not wearing any more than I put on when I crawled out of bed at 5 a.m., because who has time for that? Maybe I just look a little more awake now.

If we happen to catch eye contact as we scan the paddock looking at horses, I’ll smile and say hello. You probably know me by now, know who I work for or maybe been the victim of one of my interviews (I swear they’re not that bad, I just want to talk about your horses!).

Perhaps you’ve let me ride around in your golf cart with you to watch a horse train. You might have invited me into your barn to snap photos of a horse, or taken the time to teach me about a hoof care program you feel passionate about.

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There goes Todd Pletcher! Linzay Marks photo

I’ve heard more than one story about horses that impacted people’s lives or careers in the horse racing industry. It could have been an old back-pasture broodmare or the champion you once hot walked. Maybe even a horse you have in your barn right now. Not one is more special than another.

My job is to observe my surroundings, be attentive of people, horses, even the sky or the ground. Anything that will help me paint a picture with words. Even if you didn’t notice or realize, I’ve seen you on quiet mornings, when a soul can do nothing but smile as fog lifts over a track bustling with horses and riders. I’ve also seen you when your horse, friend, trainer, self loses. This sounds stalkerish, like I’ve been creeping around every corner. But I’ve learned to read people and moments and be in the right place at the right time.

I’ve reached out to shake your hand and tell you congratulations. Oftentimes you’ll smile warmly, say ‘thanks’ and have gratefulness written all over your face, the warm feeling conveyed through the grip of your hand. Or maybe you looked me in the eye, looked at my hand and walked away. That happened once.

I’m not here to be a bother, to pester you or change your mind. I might agree or disagree, pity you or feel nothing at all. I’ll never try to rile you up or offend you, but I want to ask thought-provoking questions, and that sometimes involves touching on sensitive matters.

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“Hi Mr. Pletcher, do you have a couple moments for me to ask you about…” Linzay Marks photo

I’ll boil it down to this: People want to know what it’s like to be you. To work and live around some of the most insanely beautiful and athletic creatures that God created. It’s a rare and precious opportunity to work so closely with them, and a lot of us who do so take it for granted. There are so many out there who want to be in our places, to see what we see when we watch the horses train in the mornings, be up close as they saddle in the paddock and stand alongside them in victory.

That’s why I’m around. My job as a journalist is to relay your thoughts, feelings, hopes and anticipations to readers so they can feel it too.

See me there? Standing on the rail, poised with a recorder and past performances in hand? I’m just a middle-(wo)man who’s lucky enough to be a messenger between you and those who read the words I stamp on a piece of newsprint.

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