Angles of Saratoga

I’ve barely settled into being home and I’m off again!

Time to head back to one of the greatest places on Earth for lovers of horse racing, as tomorrow I depart for beautiful Saratoga Racecourse. I’m loaded down with three times the amount of clothes and shoes that I brought with to Chile, so I do believe I’m prepared! This years pilgrimage east will take me through Canada, Vermont and the Adirondacks of New York.

Great things lie ahead in the upcoming days of racing, with the impending arrival of champion filly Songbird for the Coaching Club American Oaks, a rematch between the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes winners Exaggerator and Creator in the Jim Dandy, and the return of my favorite Chilean filly Dacita in the Diana.

To kick things off, here’s a wee glimpse down memory lane at the Saratoga season of last year…

Clásico Club Hípico de Santiago

my first Horse racing Reporting experience abroad

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Mandatory “Directorio” balcony selfie

Before I even left for Chile, my parents made a request: that I don’t spend all of my time there at a racetrack. This didn’t mean not to spend any time. It was just their way of expressing the importance of going out and seeing the world beyond the smoky and character-filled confines of the racetrack. I have my entire life to visit tracks, and being that life is unpredictable, there’s no guarantee I’ll ever be back in Chile again after these four months.

However, aside from my mind-altering trip to Patagonia (comparing the two is like apples to oranges), I think I may have just taken part in one of the greatest opportunities that could have possibly presented itself during my entire study abroad experience.

Despite my parents’ warnings of spending too much time at the track, I probably researched more on racing in Chile above anything else before landing in the country. And I had a date written on my calendar…

May 22, 2016: Gran Premio Club Hípico de Santiago. Continue reading

Morning at a Racetrack in Chile

the Valparaiso Sporting Club – My favorite hidden gem in VIÑA DEL MAR

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The Puente Cancha entrance to the Valparaiso Sporting Club

If you aren’t actively looking for it, you’d hardly notice the wrought iron gates set in the graffiti-covered wall across from Puente Cancha in Viña del Mar, Chile. The wall, which parallels 1 Norte Street, shields the backside of the Valparaiso Sporting Club from the honking cars and smoking buses trying to deliver anxious people to work on their Wednesday morning.

Unless you poke your face through the bars of the gates, the only indication of a track on the other side is a sign emblazoned with a victorious racehorse and bold lettering, announcing in Spanish the dates of the 2-year-old Triple Crown Races.

A guard, seated in a small guard shack just inside, is expecting me. He motions me in as I push open the surprisingly heavy gate, leaving behind the raucous outside environment and entering into different world. A gray paved road stretches out before me, lined by trees and shedrows. Steaming horses covered with brightly colored sheets clatter up and down the drive as they’re cooled out by hot walkers. Continue reading

Horse racing in Chile – It’s a small world

My first experience at a Chilean racetrack was nothing less than aWESOME

Ever since arriving in Viña (as the city is fondly called) I’ve been dying to check out the racetrack. My bus drives past the Valparaiso Sporting Club on its way to deliver me to classes, and my university, situated on a hill overlooking the city, provides a convenient view of the track. My breaks between classes are generally spent sitting in the lush, vibrantly green grass and watching the morning workouts. Yes, I do believe I picked the right place to study, and I swear I didn’t even plan that!

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Morning workouts

My curiosity got the best of me last Thursday, and I walked to the track for morning workouts, which are apparently not as common for people to watch as they are in the states. I bypassed the open door where maintenance staff was entering the grandstands, not wanting to tempt fate and have a run-in with security guards. Instead I played it safe and stood next to a low gate along the outside rail of the turf course. It wasn’t an up close and personal view, but I wasn’t complaining. I attached the zoom lens to my camera and started snapping away.

Aside from two or three who I saw putting in timed workouts, the majority of the Thoroughbreds here gallop without saddles, just a pad and a girth. The atmosphere was quiet and relaxed, nothing like the bustling morning traffic at Saratoga. Continue reading

Involving Youth in Horse Racing – Why and How?

“If you race a really fast horse against a slow horse, which one will win?”

This is the sound of cogs turning in the brain of a 6-year-old while I was giving a presentation about horse racing last week. His giant eyes stared me down as I explained the concept of the sport. It was fascinating how quickly his young mind grasped the notion of unpredictability and unexpected outcomes.

We need kids like that asking questions like this in horse racing. Actually, we just need kids. I’m not saying little Henry should head over to the human resources department of the nearest racetrack and apply for a job. But I do think the horse racing industry should spend more time educating youth under the age of 18.

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Presenting to youth at a 4-H Horse Project event

It might not make sense. Youth can’t gamble, and they probably have limited – scratch that – zero funds for investing in racehorses. But they can think and ask questions and dream. They have the ability to make horse racing a part of their lives. But first it takes time, experience, and education.

Time is a given. Most investments generally take time and patience before they pay off, and the same goes for educating youth. It’s my belief that if you teach them young, you can positively influence their career goals, hopefully towards the direction of the racing industry. Most 20-30-year-olds already have a tentative career direction, if not an established profession, making it difficult to channel their talents to the benefit of racing.

Time is an obvious necessity, but creating experiences and providing education are more in-depth.

I’d be willing to bet I could walk up to anyone in the racing industry and ask them about the moment they fell in love with horse racing. They would recall that one race “when [insert horse] fought his heart out to win by a nose,” or the time “when Grandpa Joe handed me a winning ticket.” It could be anything from a horse to a person or a race – essentially an experience that gave them a connection to racing and made them care.

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Youth listen to a veterinarian speak at the North Dakota Horse Park.

My first connection was simple and not very exciting. I saw the movie Ruffian, and that was all it took. I wanted to feel that passion every day of my life.

But once you’ve given someone an experience, which must be a positive one, you have to facilitate their success, and this means following up with education. Some people have the drive and self-motivation to educate themselves. Others require diligent guidance to shape their minds.

And I really cannot emphasize enough when I say an experience must be positive. Racing may be a business, a gambling sport and a lifestyle. But I believe that anyone who cares about the industry has a responsibility to be a teacher, willing to usher in the next generation to take their place when they step out.

I’ve encountered people who have busted their backs and gone far out of their way to help me succeed. I’ve also encountered the opposite – those who have made me feel as though my presence is incredibly unwelcome and unappreciated. For me, the positive far outweighs the negative, but I will always remember both experiences.

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Learning about racing tack at the 2013 National Racing Experience. Photo credit: Robin Alden

One of my greatest educational opportunities was through the American Quarter Horse Youth Association when I competed in the 2013 National Racing Experience at Los Alamitos. This is a scholarship competition held in conjunction with the Bank of America Challenge Championships – basically the Quarter Horse equivalent to the Breeders’ Cup for Thoroughbreds.

Nine other competitors and I worked alongside trainers, observing their daily routine and management of a barn full of racing Quarter Horses. We attended industry seminars, toured a renowned stallion farm and were tested on the knowledge we had acquired. Continue reading

Working a Thoroughbred Sale: Part 2

My account of working the Keeneland January Sale

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A mare with her foal at the Keeneland January Sale

A year ago around this time, I was attending the Heritage Place Winter Sale in Oklahoma City, which is comparable to Keeneland but for Quarter Horses only.  I worked at the sale as the online communications and publications intern for AQHA, taking photos and networking. However, I was intrigued by the way the sales worked on the equine side with the buyers and sellers. Potential buyers studied the pedigrees of consigned horses from a large book, and came around to their stalls to look them over, watch them walk and analyze their movement.

While working for The Saratoga Special this past summer, I took in the Fasig-Tipton Select Yearling Sale. Although it was the same concept as the Heritage Place sale for Quarter Horses, there was a lot more money involved, it was set up differently and the agencies who consign the horses are different. Continue reading

Working a Thoroughbred Sale: Part 1

What is a Thoroughbred sale, and how does it work?

The horse racing industry is big and small at the same time. It’s comprised of multiple components, including breeding farms, racetracks, sales, and media, and every one of these branches is interconnected.

I love diving in and learning about the different aspects of racing. The majority of my experiences have been concentrated in journalism and communications, however I’ve also worked as a clocker, gallop girl, pony girl and taking entries in a racing office.

Thoroughbred sales were an area that I had less experience with, so I took it upon myself to learn more by actually working a sale – the Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale. Fun fact: Keeneland is the world’s largest Thoroughbred auction house! They hold multiple sales every year, with the largest ones in September and November. Continue reading

Tribute to a Tiny Racetrack

The first time I watched live horse racing, it wasn’t at a pristine track like Keeneland, or the timeless staple, Saratoga. There’s no sweeping grandstand or meticulously manicured infield. Instead, a set of shiny metal bleachers covered by a white awning overlook the stretch. A blanket of prairie grass dotted with cross-country jumps spreads across the infield.

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The North Dakota Horse Park at dawn. Photo by Leslie Miller

Unless you’re from Fargo, North Dakota, you’ve probably never even heard of this track, and maybe never will again after you finish reading my story.

It’s called the North Dakota Horse Park. Continue reading

Impressions of the Hong Kong International Races

The more I learn about horse racing, the more global I realize it is. Name the country, there’s probably horse racing there. The sport maintains a sort of fluidity between different cultures. You don’t have to speak the same language to appreciate the impeccable breeding that has shaped the thoroughbred body into a smoothly-muscled, aerodynamic running machine.

My obsession, as of late, has been with the Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin Racecourse. While I should be studying, I’ve been shamelessly stalking the #HKIR social media team, a group of prominent racing personalities invited by the Hong Kong Jockey Club to provide coverage of the event. All I can say is ‘life goals.’ I would love for that to be me someday, because the experience they had was clearly second-to-none.

Because of the time zone difference, American racing enthusiasts must stay up into the wee hours of the night to catch the races at Sha Tin. But that didn’t keep me from tuning in after watching the movie Elf last Saturday night.

I was impressed, to say the least. I think the Breeders’ Cup is an absolutely wonderful event that showcases the nation’s finest racehorses, as well as representatives from other countries. But Breeders’ Cup still paled in comparison to the pomp and circumstance of the Hong Kong International Races. Continue reading

Faces at the Races: Those Ain’t Highway Miles

Trainer and former jockey Herman Fennell talks bumpy roads and horse racing

Everyone in the horse racing industry seems to have a story. In order to highlight a few of the incredible people I’ve had the opportunity to meet and the stories they’ve shared with me, I’m going to begin writing the occasional feature, “Faces at the Races.” This article about  trainer Herman Fennell was a piece I wrote while working as the summer intern for the Minnesota Quarter Horse Racing Association. It ran in their August 2015 newsletter, but I wanted to spread the love and share it again, so enjoy!

Horse racing is a sport that can take you to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Anyone who has been in the industry as long as Herman Fennell has undoubtedly seen both ends of the spectrum.

I found Herman cleaning his shedrow at Canterbury Park on a sunny Friday morning in June. The horses under the care of the 66-year-old trainer stared contentedly out of their stalls as they awaited their turn on the hot walker. Herman filled hay nets and cleaned stalls as I stood by and admired his protégés. I commented that his horses appear to be happy. Continue reading