As a preteen living in Connecticut, I knew that very few of my peers shared my love of horse racing. While I pored over Edward L. Bowen's weighty tomes on great sires and mares of the past, other kids read comic books or Judy Blume novels. While I scoured pages of past performances in The Blood-Horse, my partners in puberty searched the racks for Juicy Couture. Needless to say, I was in search of kindred spirits.
So I was thrilled when my mother found an organization called Kids to the Cup (KTTC), which took young racing fans to major races and behind the scenes on the backstretch. Finally, a people with whom I could share my love of Thoroughbreds! And KTTC didn't disappoint. With this group of like-minded people, I traveled across the country to Breeders' Cups. In particular, the 2002 rendition at Arlington Park and 2004 edition at Lone Star Park were highlights.
I also attended Triple Crown races, and, in the process, met some of my all-time heroes. Where else could I have met trainer Bob Baffert and had the opportunity to ask him why he put War Emblem's 2002 Preakness Stakes trophy on his head in the winner's circle? His reply, "Because I'm a damn fool!" was priceless.
It's also thanks to KTTC that I met Blood-Horse writer Steve Haskin and former NBC racing analyst Charlsie Cantey. I took down their contact information; when I drew up an in-depth pedigree analysis of a 2004 Derby contender named Smarty Jones that showed the potential to get the mile-and-a-quarter distance, I sent it to them. Smarty came in first, and The Blood-Horse offered me, at age thirteen, my own digital column called "Teen Tracks." The rest, as they say, is history.
In 2006, KTTC's founder, Trudy McCaffery, had to shut down the organization due to lack of funds. She passed away in 2007, leaving a void not only in the racing and philanthropic worlds, but also the lives of many young racing fans. Without her tireless efforts on our behalf, we never would have been able to experience the track first-hand and had our love of the sport nurtured to such a degree.
I didn't grow up in Kentucky or on a farm with horses. No one in my family owned racehorses. I didn't live particularly close to a track. Therefore, it wasn't like I could easily become involved in racing by myself. Thanks to KTTC, I engulfed myself in racing lore and learned the ways of the track--and today, I am fortunate enough to still be just as in love with this sport as the day I watched my first Kentucky Derby.
My generation of racing enthusiasts was fortunate enough to have the likes of Ms. McCaffery and KTTC's director, John DeSantis (fondly known to us as "Johnny D."), to encourage our love of the sport. But what about today's fledgling fans? What organizations do they have to have them meet their equine and human idols, to take them to the backstretch, to be thrilled by the stories of champions gone by?
There has been some movement to create more fan support. In particular, America's Best Racing and Horse Racing Nation are excellent examples of building digital communities for racing enthusiasts. But talking about horses online is one thing. Getting to chat with trainers in the flesh, walk the backstretch, pet a future champion--these real-life experiences are far more valuable than sitting behind a computer.
Ms. McCaffery was generous enough to donate her time and money to KTTC. But, going forward, more than one person should pioneer an effort to get young fans to the track. In a day and age where publications claim that horse racing isn't a viable sport, we need to cultivate the next generation of fans to ensure that Thoroughbred racing stays alive.
Horse racing doesn't have a single commissioner (yet). But, along with medication issues, our diverse leaders need to agree upon how to encourage fan development. Tangible time at the track isn't realistic for everyone without some help from the industry itself, so let's make it happen.
For example, the Breeders' Cup is in six weeks. Every year, KTTC would show fans from around the country the ropes at the Cup; they could experience the thrill of races live. It's too late to revive KTTC for this Cup, but why not make this an active item on the Jockey Club's agenda for next year? In 2015, the Cup will be run at Keeneland, heart of the Bluegrass State.
I can tell you firsthand that nothing delights a kid who wants to eat, sleep, and breathe horses than actually doing so at a seminal event at one of the greatest tracks in the country. Meeting Wise Dan would be a thrill for any racing fan. Since we'll be in Kentucky next year. What if stud farms donated tours of their facilities? Kids could see what Tiznow or Orb look like up close, rather than watching their wins on YouTube.
Bobby Frankel, D. Wayne Lukas, Todd Pletcher, Bob and Beverly Lewis... meeting these luminaries of 1990's and early 2000's racing became memories forever ingrained in my mind. Each individual kindly took time out of his or her day to welcome us into the sport, answer our questions, and show us around the backstretch. We truly were a herd of horse lovers unto ourselves, but I wouldn't have had it any other way.
|The author with Bobby Frankel|