I am not a blueblood.
At least not to the racing industry.
My father was not a famous trainer, my mother did not own Secretariat. My brother never tacked up a horse, and my sister couldn’t tell you who Chris McCarron is.
But 9 years ago I moved to Lexington, Ky. And with 2 cents and a broken heart, I was hired as a groom on a thoroughbred breeding farm. Lost in the world after recently losing my father, a father who hated horses and his daughter riding them, I decided to forge my way into this industry.
To prove to myself that I could. To prove to the industry that a tiny blonde from Meadville, Pennsylvania could. And maybe in the back of my mind and my heart was to prove to my father that I could. That horses could lead me to financial stability. To greatness. Maybe most importantly to happiness.
So here I am, nine years later. Sitting in a hotel in Pasadena, California, preparing for a second day at the Breeder’s Cup–the World Championships of horse racing.
And I receive a text message from my mother–a woman who had no desire to attend the racetrack just a decade ago. She was asking when to tune in, and who to cheer for. And as I ramble off times, race names, and the horses I love–I started to realize that today is special.
Because today, these races, and the magnificent horses running in them is also full of stories of hope. Of try. And the ability to turn those things into greatness.
I met Dawn Mellen at the Clocker’s Corner the other morning. Her arms full of Breeders Cup hats, with a bright purple one proudly adorned on her own head. My friend Tara introduced her to me, proudly stating that this woman not only had a horse in the BC Turf, but that she was also passionate about aftercare. And I struck up a conversation with Dawn, fascinated by what brought her into this industry, and her own humble beginnings.
She spoke so proudly of her horse–Ashleyluvssugar. Of his own humble upbringing-being a California bred by Game Plan, an unraced stallion that is now deceased but who stood for only $2500. But Ashleyluvssugar was special. She had bred him herself and he was named by her young niece. And his journey had been special to her thus far – having come off of back to back graded stakes wins and earnings of almost $1 million dollars.
And while Ashleyluvssugar prepared himself for the toughest race of his life, Dawn was running around the backside collecting hats. Her charity, After the Finish Line, would be auctioning off these hats in order to gift funds to the aftercare organizations that helped find homes and second careers for horses like Ashley when he was done racing.
And although Dawn was very excited about this upcoming race, she became even more animated when speaking about After the Finish Line. Her hobby was horse racing, but her passion was so obviously in helping secure a safe landing for all racehorses. And although the field is stacked in that race (which airs on NBC at 6:22 eastern), but I will be cheering for the little guy in that one–and screaming myself hoarse for Ashley. And more importantly, for his owner who is so passionate about retirement and aftercare.
And then there’s The Mile. The race preceding The Classic. And in it are two girls that I love equally as passionately. Tepin and Miss Temple City are both taking on the boys in the battle of the sexes that has been occurring all year. In a sport where the fields are usually kept separate between the colts and the fillies, we have this monumental race where there is not just one amazing girl trying to take on the boys–but two.
One of which was bred by one of the fiercest females in this industry, Carrie Brogden of Machmer Hall, and the other whom was named after the wife and mother of Bob, Sean, and Madeline Feld-a woman who is no longer with us, but whom I have been blessed with stories of her amazing character and brilliance.
And while these fillies may no longer be considered underdogs by any means, having earned their spots in the books as two of the greats–their beginnings and now their ability to prove once again sex has no impact on ability or earnings, they will still be in a race for the races. The girls against the boys. Or maybe, if dreams become realities, it will be the girl against the girl, with the smelly boys trailing the field.
And last, but certainly not least, there is Chrome. The horse who stole America’s heart in the 2014 Kentucky Derby. Who was bred by good old boys front California, but still found his way to the winners circle on that first Saturday in May. California Chrome is back, and in 2016 he has proven once again that where you come from means nothing. That setbacks and road blocks are just there to prove to the world yet again the ability and determination you contain.
He didn’t retire to stud immediately after his 3 year old season. And his 4 year old year was riddled with injuries, ownership changes, and being shuttled from place to place. But at the age of 5, he has galloped for the most epic comeback of racing history. 5 races, 5 wins, and $7 million in earnings, pushing his overall earnings to just below $13.5 million.
A horse who was bred for next to nothing. Owned by people who had just gotten into the business. And now the highest earner of any racehorse in history. He. Is. Unreal.
So no matter where you are in your life, today’s races are for the history books, and more importantly–for your heart. The undertones of these races mimic what we are seeing in this world. Women’s rights? Check. Humble beginnings with minimal opportunities? Check. Retirement plans and finding your next step? Check, check. And more importantly — watching the inexplicable beauty of 1200 pound animals running down the homestretch with their ears perked forward and their connections screaming, jumping, and crying? I can only hope.
So run on. Run on Ashleyluvssugar. Run on girls. And run on Chrome. Do it for the fans, do it for your connections, but more importantly–do it for yourselves.