Monday, June 17, 2013

A Labor of Love

--Jon Siegel

Maybe it's because my oldest child just graduated high school and is now embarking on her journey to find her path in life, but the saying "find what you love to do, and figure out a way to get paid to do it" is a common statement at my house right now.

With that on my mind, I can't help but realize that is exactly what I have been fortunate enough to do in my life. Born and raised in the thoroughbred industry, some of my first memories are from helping around the farm. Simple jobs like finding lost halters in the fields for 25 cents, cleaning out rain-soaked creep feeders, mucking stalls, picking feet and many more little jobs.

These early days around the farm created a love for thoroughbreds, and that love for the thoroughbred has rewarded me with some of the greatest memories in my life.  Like the time I had a tall, narrow yearling that I was sales prepping for the Keeneland September Sale.  This colt was tough as nails and loved to push your buttons -- I spent hours wrapping his legs and he spent hours finding ways to make my life harder.  One night he even ate the tail off another yearling I was prepping and I swear he was smiling at me when I brought him in the next morning. That yearling would go one to be know as "The Fish" and he brought me to tears when he won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and was nipped on the wire in the Belmont, nearly becoming a Triple Crown winner. His name was Real Quiet.

Fast forward to 2013 and I still find myself in love with thoroughbreds. Although I am no longer making a living working "hands-on" with them, I continue to work behind the scenes marketing some of the best horses in the world. I remember saying to my wife in 1998 that Real Quiet would be the biggest moment in my career. I'm not sure I can say that anymore halfway through 2013.

Animal Kingdom
Jon Siegel photo
This year we were asked to follow Animal Kingdom on his quest to conquer the Dubai World Cup. Following him for months behind the scenes, we naturally became attached to him.  When you spend that much time with a horse, you learn their personality. Animal Kingdom is one of those horses who knows he is great but is still kind to be around, a quality I admire in horses and people. Standing on the rail taking pictures of him winning the Dubai World Cup, this horse once again brought me to tears.  

I came home from overseas and told my wife I had experienced a new moment that could not be surpassed. Outside of being connected to a Kentucky Derby or Triple Crown winner, it doesn't get any bigger than winning the Dubai World Cup. But one of the beauties of the sport we all love is that great moments don't always have to live in big events. The 7th race at Hollywood Park on Friday June 14, 2013 will be a date that will remind of that for the rest of my life.

Backtracking to Kentucky Derby week 2012, I brought my wife Christine with us to the backside of Churchill Downs to meet a few of the Kentucky Derby contenders. Standing in the shedrow of Bob Baffert's barn petting Bodemeister, I looked over to my right and to see Christine talking with the horse in the next stall over. I told her to be careful. That horse is tough I said, with his ears pinned and acting like he did not like the attention. She asked, "what's this ones name?" That feisty dark bay of course was Paynter and the statement I made about him being tough could not have been more true.

Working with the Zayat family on the Go Bode Go campaign, we became very close to them and their horses, especially Bode and Paynter. When Paynter got sick after the Haskell, we watched with great anxiety for his updates through Ahmed Zayat's Twitter feed along with the rest of the racing world. We worried about that friend we made on the backside of Churchill Downs, and although we knew he was tough, we worried we may never see him again.

Bodemeister and Paynter
Jon Siegel photo
Friday night at our house with my family standing in front of the TV, we were all brought to tears as we watched that tough dark bay with the white star victoriously returned to racing. I looked forward to Paynter's return for so many obvious reasons, but as I looked around that room and saw my family jumping up and down cheering it hit me: My daughter has graduated from high school and will move out sooner than later, my boys are nearing their teen years, and my wife and I are nearing our 20th wedding anniversary, and once again a special horse has us high-fiving each other like we just won lottery. Just one more way this industry continues to pay me for doing something I love. I am so thankful to these magnificent animals we call Thoroughrbeds.  Man I love this sport!

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