‘You Could Do Much Better Than This’: Next Generation Of Racing’s Leaders Look To The Future – Horse Racing News

‘You Could Do Much Better Than This’: Next Generation Of Racing’s Leaders Look To The Future – Horse Racing News

This is the second installment in our interview series speaking to the next generation of leaders in horse racing. Read the first installment, as well as an introduction to the series here.

-What made you pursue a career in racing? 

The first time I went to a yearling sale I just fell in love with the energetic environment and the hustle and bustle of it all and I immediately knew that this was the industry I wanted to pursue a career in. I was shadowing an industry professional at that sale for a class assignment with no intentions of pursuing a career in this field, but as soon as I left, I started applying for jobs on Thoroughbred farms and researching as much as I could about the industry to figure out how I could get involved.

-Have your feelings about your choice changed over time and if so, what prompted that change? 

My feelings about my choice have not changed, but it hasn’t been all that long since I made that choice. So far I have no regrets. 

-Do you feel any kind of ceiling to your career due to age/race/gender/lack of family in the business (and if so, where does that idea come from)?

I definitely feel a ceiling, mainly when it comes to gender and lack of family in the business. Being a woman, it starts to get discouraging when you don’t see a very even ratio of women to men in higher positions specifically on breeding farms, but I also see and know a lot of young, driven women working towards those positions and I have good faith they will attain them and be pioneers for the next generation. 

The ceiling due to lack of family in the business doesn’t seem quite as optimistic for change to me though. The success you have in this industry can tend to rely heavily on connections, and people with family in this business get a tremendous head start in that area. I personally know people through school with family in the business and people who don’t, so I’ve seen first hand the types of opportunities that are given to people with family in the industry that people without family in this industry work a lot longer and harder to be offered. That can be very discouraging to people and have a big impact on how long they remain in this industry.  It can even discourage people from ever trying to get involved in the first place.

-How do you feel about the direction of the industry long-term? 

I think the industry is definitely starting to head in the right direction long-term. All of these important conversations are being had about working conditions, five-day work weeks, getting young people involved, a single governing body for racing, etc. It is opening people’s eyes to issues that they didn’t even know involved them in the first place. There are also a lot of really great initiatives being started to get outsiders involved in the industry like Amplify and Nexus Racing Club. We have a lot of great young minds getting to take on higher positions and have more influence on the way our industry functions and I think it will only get better as we progress. 

With that being said, I do think there are still quite a few people in high positions out there who are very resistant to this change and are very set in their ways. With time and more young people getting to those higher positions, the people who are resistant to change will eventually either have to get on board or get left behind. 

-What do you think racing’s single biggest Achilles’ heel is right now? 

I think it’s a tie between the lack of major consequences for breaking rules that directly correlate with the safety and well being of horses and riders, as well as the resistance to change to accommodate the evolving workforce. I think both of those could lead to a very quick demise for our industry if action isn’t taken, and a lot of people are working very hard to do just that. 

-What about its greatest potential asset? 

The greatest potential asset is that it’s very marketable to young people who like horses and don’t know what to pursue for a life-long career. With social media being as prominent as it is, there are so many opportunities to take advantage of that asset. 

-Do you think you’ll still be working in racing in 20 years’ time (and if not do you have a fallback plan)?

I definitely would like to think I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life, I don’t see how I could live without it now that I’m involved in so many aspects of it. My only worry is that the industry won’t be around for me to work in 20 years from now if we stop progressing and evolving. I don’t have a specific fall-back plan, but it would still probably be involved with horses in some sense. 

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-What made you pursue a career in racing?

I fell in love with the sport as a kid and nothing has ever felt like home like the racetrack.

-Have your feelings about your choice changed over time and if so, what prompted that change?

This sport can be heartbreaking and frustrating. I still believe in it and I really believe I can do more good inside the system than sitting on the sidelines complaining.

-Do you feel any kind of ceiling to your career due to age/race/gender/lack of family in the business (and if so, where does that idea come from)?

I have watched peers who are better-bred than I am with far less experience and skills than I have leap to the front of the line. It is discouraging and frustrating. Many do well with the opportunities their family connections give them but they also have a head start and the freedom to fail that many of us don’t get.

-How do you feel about the direction of the industry long-term?

There is a lot of room to improve. You can’t dismiss progress for perfection – we have come a long way in some areas and that is great but we can still do better.

-What do you think racing’s single biggest Achilles’ heel is right now?

It is one thing for us all to talk about how much we love our horses. Now it is time to show it and get rid of the people who refuse to play by the rules and refuse to do the right thing by our equine athletes.

-What about its greatest potential asset?

The greatest asset will always be the horses. They are compelling and inspiring.

-Do you think you’ll still be working in racing in 20 years’ time (and if not do you have a fallback plan)?

I have no other viable skill set or interest, so I hope so. 

-What made you pursue a career in racing? 

My initial desire stemmed from books and watching the Kentucky Derby on television each year as a child, but it is the deep history of the sport and the adrenaline rush of two athletes pushing themselves to their limits that inspired me to pursue a career in horse racing. 

-Have your feelings about your choice changed over time and if so, what prompted that change? 

My determination about my career choice has only deepened over time. As public perception of the sport has declined in recent years, I have made it my mission to not only advocate for the horse, but to become a bridge to educate and inform those who perceive racing as cruel about the new modalities of treatment that make diagnosis and treatment of the horse more readily available. I now believe I have an important role to play in the future of horse racing. 

-Do you feel any kind of ceiling to your career due to age/race/gender/lack of family in the business (and if so, where does that idea come from)? 

My gender continues to be my biggest hurdle, as some will perceive women as weaker than men and therefore less capable of working with a high-strung Thoroughbred. However, this keeps me persevering because I want to help change mindsets so that every person is given their fair shot.

-How do you feel about the direction of the industry long-term? 

I believe that the industry needs to not just maintain its fan base, but to expand it in order to survive and thrive. Horse racing is competing with other big-name sports and venues such as football, so we must draw people into the wonder of this sport and address their concerns about animal welfare. The media is very powerful and our industry has a multitude of animal-loving people who are dedicated to the health and safety of horses and jockeys. If we work together to portray racing as athletic, beautiful and safe to the public, I trust that racing will thrive long-term. 

-What do you think racing’s single biggest Achilles’ heel is right now? 

In my opinion, it is that groups involved within racing are not working together. I hear a lot of positive ideas that go unimplemented and outrage when changes are enforced. Not all change is good, but we must trust one another and work together to decide which changes are truly beneficial and then support each other through the implementation. The public must see us as united and with a plan. 

-What about its greatest potential asset? 

The diversity of people in racing is its greatest potential asset, as the industry is comprised of so many inspiring individuals, with every person bringing their ideas and experiences to implement positive change. We have owners who run successful businesses and breeding farm owners who are selecting from the very best pedigrees. We have trainers, jockeys, and grooms from around the world, many who are also highly educated, who are willing to devote long hours at the track. This list goes on. Again, if we all work together, we can bring horse racing to the forefront of the sporting world. 

-Do you think you’ll still be working in racing in 20 years’ time (and if not do you have a fall-back plan)? 

I absolutely plan to still be working in racing in 20 years. I want to be part of the positive change I envision and will continue to develop the relationships with both the people and horses that I have fostered during my career in horse racing.  Racing provides unique opportunities for people who are willing to work hard and give the horses the depth of learning and understanding that they deserve. I wish to one day be able to pass onto the next generation the things that horses have taught me in my career.

-What made you pursue a career in racing? 

My family took me to the races at a young age and I fell in love with the horses, the excitement of the races, handicapping the races and trying to piece together the puzzle of every race. I have always wanted to work in something I am passionate about, so I decided to go for it, and it’s been a dream come true.   

-Have your feelings about your choice changed over time and if so, what prompted that change? 

No, my choice has not changed. I thoroughly enjoy my work, enjoy working hard for our customers and enjoy the people I work with/friends I have made in the business.  

-Do you feel any kind of ceiling to your career due to age/race/gender/lack of family in the business (and if so, where does that idea come from)?

No, I don’t feel there is a ceiling. There are a lot of people in the industry that have helped me and encouraged me to work hard and shoot for my goals.

-How do you feel about the direction of the industry long-term?

“Uncertainty” is the perfect word to describe it. I think the industry will be here long-term. I don’t think we’re going anywhere. Places like New York, Florida, Kentucky, California – they’ll be around for a long, long time. But what about smaller tracks that rely heavily on subsidies to survive? What is the structure of the business going to look like long-term? What is our horse population going to look like in the next five, ten, or 20 years? Will racing turn into a three-day-a-week or weekend sport? With sports betting on the table, how does that affect things? How will racing be perceived in the media in the future? We see an awful lot of negative attention when racing gets into the mainstream conversation. And will this media coverage (negative or positive) affect the ability to attract new customers, new horseplayers, even support from state and national governments? How are we going to attract new and younger horseplayers? New owners and breeders? I could go on and on. It’s hard to answer these questions. That means there is uncertainty.

-What do you think racing’s single biggest Achilles’ heel is right now?

The “we do things because this is the how we’ve always done it” mentality. That mentality keeps us stuck in the past while other competing industries move forward. But more importantly, it stops our industry from taking steps forward to a better product. From my experience, whenever a racing entity can adjust in a situation that needs improvement, generally I see improvement take place. Whenever we do things “because that’s how we’ve always done it,” the experience hasn’t come close to reaching its maximum potential for the customers or the industry.

-What about its greatest potential asset?

The racing industry has a lot of resources at its disposal. The money is there, for example, but we need to spend it on the future-better technology, marketing campaigns, fan education, etc. It’s crucial we improve the customer experience significantly, and our industry has the resources to do that. Customers don’t just include horseplayers and fans – horsemen/horsewomen and media are included. Gaming, gambling, agriculture, entertainment … yes, horse racing is all those things. But all racing-related operations need to see themselves as workers in the hospitality business as well. 

-Do you think you’ll still be working in racing in 20 years’ time (and if not do you have a fall-back plan)?

I sure hope so. I would like to continue working in racing. I enjoy my job and the community of people.

-What made you pursue a career and racing?

Like most people, I just fell in love with the sport, the track, and most importantly the horses at a really young age. When you have a passion for something (not everyone is this lucky!), and you’re a kid getting ready to head out into the world, I think you always owe it to yourself to give that passion a try as a career. For me, for a long time, there was nothing else I wanted to do. There still isn’t, but I unfortunately don’t see a way forward anymore.

-Have your feelings about your choice changed over time and if so, what prompted that change?

In college, I was trying to build myself into someone who could be an asset to the industry in the long term. I didn’t go to University of Kentucky or University of Louisville or anywhere with an equine program, so most of that was done in the summers. As my network expanded, one reaction I would often get for some reason was, “you’re young, well-positioned, smart, well-educated, and well-spoken. You could do much better than this.” I’ve spoken with enough people to know I’m not the only one to get a reaction like that. It seems like such an odd thing to want to tell young people who want to pursue a future in your industry, but it was something I actually got pretty often. In any other industry, you’d think those qualities would have people fighting for you, and you’d think industry leaders would want to do a better sell of theirs to those people. 

If you treat your own industry like something unworthy of smart, motivated, ambitious young people, you can’t grow. After being told “no, this isn’t for you, go do something else” enough times, despite trying to be at your best and just wanting to learn from the people telling you that, it takes a toll on your mental health.

-Do you feel any kind of ceiling to your career due to age/race/gender/lack of family in the business (and if so, where does that idea come from)?

This is the type of question that, if answered in a particular way, will make certain people dismiss you as bitter, so I have to be careful here! I won’t speak of ceilings, but I will say that the experiences of white men, and that of people with family in the business, are so fundamentally different than those of people who don’t fit in those groups. As a white person, I won’t and can’t speak to the challenges faced by minorities in this business, but I will say that it’s a goal of mine to create formal and informal channels for inclusion in every aspect of this sport – it’s something we should be actively working toward. One thing I wish someone would’ve been realistic with me about from the beginning is just how many opportunities are not available to you, no matter who you are, because there’s a young family member waiting to take up whatever position they’ve been destined to since they were young. 

I do want to say two things, though. First, I think a lot of women, particularly young women, in the industry have all had at least one harrowing experience on the backside, including me. It’s a huge issue that doesn’t get talked about enough, and something that frustrates me, at least from what I’ve seen, is that there are a decent number of women, all of them with family in high places, who turn a blind eye to it because they’ve never experienced it. Why would they have? If your mom or dad is the boss, or if you’re well connected, people control their behavior. 

The other thing, and I’ve been thinking about for a while, is that I would personally love to see something like the Godolphin Flying Start program, but just for people who didn’t grow up in the sport. Too often I see people accepted to programs like that who come from well-established family businesses, will head back to them after graduating, and don’t necessarily need what the program provides. I think something geared toward people who have come from the outside world, so to speak, would be incredibly useful.

-How do you feel about the direction of the industry long–term?

Not great, to be honest. Field sizes are going down, and our wagering product needs much work (in many ways). We face optics issue after optics issue, and both don’t seem interested in actually doing anything about it and seem unwilling to hire a communications arm to speak collectively for us when things do go awry. 

I am obviously not speaking for every employer, but we don’t seem to treat our employees particularly well. We are resistant to change, and when we do attempt it, it goes in circles. Every time I hear a new initiative from the same people who have been making decisions for years, I don’t have a lot of faith in it, because so often it’s all talk and no action. 

I hope this doesn’t out me (unfortunately, I think it will!), but I also have been at odds with the majority philosophy in the breeding and bloodstock world of late. We breed sales horses, not racehorses anymore. Colts seem to race only to commercialize themselves as stallions, and too often ones that are fawned over the most have insane soundness issues and don’t actually belong in the shed. I believe in a breeder’s responsibility to be a good steward to the actual Thoroughbred breed, and I fear that we are straying from that. 

I will say, though, that there are so many good people in every facet of this business who do a lot of the right things. I wish they and their ideas would get listened to more. I think if we get the industry into the hands that can best guide us toward sustainability, we’ll be okay.   

-What do you think racing’s single biggest Achilles’ heel is right now?

Frankly, it’s the inability of many industry leaders to take criticism, both of themselves and of people they choose to associate with. I have personally been, and seen people be, silenced (and shockingly, even blacklisted) for very benign comments or criticisms of certain people. I know people who fear for their livelihoods off of one possibly unsupportive comment about anything remotely associated with their employer, even if it was honest and well-intentioned. I wish more than anything that this industry was more willing to look itself in the mirror, to have tough conversations about why we assign no liability to owners who enable less-than-above board trainers, why people continue to do business with individuals who don’t pay their trainers, or the fact that we welcome and are about to award one, possibly two, of our highest awards to someone with a very questionable human rights reputation globally. Among, of course, so many other things. In an industry that continually seems to shoot itself in the foot (in really almost all aspects), behavior can and should get scrutinized, and people should be free to share what they think.

-What about its greatest potential asset?

Its young people! It’s always been one of my biggest goals to grow the sport in this space, and I have met so many incredible people around my age that have such a passion for racing. I think we need to work toward amplifying the voices of the 20 and 30-somethings who have great ideas about how we can move forward. After all, they are going to be the sport’s biggest customer in a few years.

-Do you think you’ll still be working in racing in 20 years’ time (and if not do you have a fall-back plan)?

I’m working toward my fallback plan now, which is law school. I have every intention of coming back into the fold in a few years, but it’s because I want to use that education to be a part of the changes I think we need to make. I really think a more polished me will have something to offer to that process. 

Apart from that, I want to explore ownership more too when I’m in a better financial and career position in a few years. Particularly if I could do something with the amazing group of friends this sport has brought into my life, there’s nothing more I could ask for. At the end of the day, this is still the best game in the world, and it’ll never leave me.

Tomorrow, we’ll continue our series of Q&As with the next generation of racing’s leaders. 

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