Photo: Tory Egerton
“Racing’s Future” is a new Q&A series in which I aspire to help everyone in
the industry. In addition to shining a spotlight on youth who plan to have a
career in horse racing, I hope that the opinions expressed in their responses
will offer industry leaders insight into what a younger audience believes the
sport should improve upon.
Meet Ciara Bowen
Twenty-year-old Ciara Bowen, a
native of Arkansas, is a student at Morrisville State College, where she majors
in Thoroughbred Racing Management. Ciara has been a fan of horse racing since
2003 and plans to become a turf writer and photographer.
What got you interested in horse
One day I was sitting on the couch watching TV, and my parents left the
newspaper near me when they left to go cook or something. I glanced over at it
and saw this brilliant red horse covered in soap suds, and the headline
mentioned something along the lines of “The Gutsy Gelding to Preakness.” I was
interested immediately, so I read the article. By the time the 2004 Oaklawn
season was kicking off, I knew more about racing than many people I know today
know about it. Smarty Jones was my first racehorse love of my generation, but I
really have Funny Cide to thank for drawing me in.
What do you love about horse racing?
I love just about everything about racing: the true fans, the adrenaline
you get watching the horses fly down the stretch, the sheer beauty. Racing is a
world within a world, a sort of oasis. It has its own language, its own set of
rules. I love being able to understand it and to be about it. One of my
favorite things about it is just going to watch morning works. There's nothing
quite like standing right on the rail, with a small crowd spread out along the
distance of the stretch or turn, and listening to the thunder of hooves. You
can't hear it as well in the afternoons, but in the mornings, it's just
How often do you go to the races?
Not as often as I would like. When I'm at home, I try to go to Oaklawn
every other weekend and if I can't make that, then I try to go at least once a
month. Here in New York, I get to go more frequently at some points of the year
and then not at all during others. The Morrisville crew takes horses to breeze
and race at Finger Lakes, so when they're open, I usually go at least once a
week. Otherwise, it's hit or miss.
What racetracks have you been to?
Aqueduct, Belmont, Finger Lakes, Louisiana Downs, Oaklawn, and Saratoga
What are your favorite moments in your
“horse racing life” thus far?
That list is long! There have been so many great moments. . . When I went
to Louisiana Downs for the first time, I got to help Happy Ticket's groom brush
her and that was just huge for me. She was one of my favorite mares and I never
thought I would get to see her in person, much less touch her. That same day I
got to meet Lawyer Ron, which was also huge. He was an awesome horse. More
recently would have to be attending the 2013 Travers and the 2013 Super
Saturday at Belmont. I'm a huge fan of Will Take Charge, and Wayne Lukas, so to
see them win the race was just awesome. That horse gets better and better with
every race. Super Saturday had way too many favorite moments to really get
into, but one of the best was the Beldame. Princess of Sylmar and Royal Delta
both ran a great race, and I've never
felt a grandstand roar like it did that day as the horses came down the
stretch. Better than the race itself was Royal Delta coming back, because even
though she'd lost, everyone gave her a round of applause and you could just see
how special she was to us.
Who is your favorite racehorse of your
lifetime? Before your lifetime?
Do I have to choose just one? There've been so many! I feel like the
default answer is Barbaro or Zenyatta, and they're definitely super, super high
on my list. But, I'm going to have to go with Curlin. My favorite racehorse
before my lifetime is hands down Man O' War.
If you could change something about the
industry, what would you change?
That's a tough question. I would try to cut out all the negativity that
other sports and industries, and the public in general, have toward us. Nothing
is perfect, so I don't claim we are, but every single sport or industry out
there has qualities that aren't so flattering. People don't talk about soring
or acing horses, for instance, as much as they do about giving Lasix or running
two-year olds. Yeah, we have things we need to clean up and fix; the other guys
do, too. But it's really hard to convince them we've changed when they all see
what they want. I really just wish there were a way for me to eliminate that.
What do you think is preventing horse
racing from being a more popular sport?
The negative outlook that just can't seem to go away. It's really a lot
of factors, but I'd say that the main things are running two-year-olds, drug
use, and horses breaking down. People don't look at the big picture, so they
don't see that a breakdown doesn't happen every two seconds or that not
everyone gives their horses milkshakes. They just don't get it. And they don't
bother to look at the pictures that show the relationships that the people
involved with these horses have with them, or they don't bother to go to the
track during the mornings to see it in person. They think that so many people
just abuse their racehorses rather than love and appreciate them.
What do you think is the most common
misconception about horse racing?
Like I said before, people tend to think it's all about the money and
that the horses are just terribly mistreated. Granted, money plays a huge factor in what we do. Without
money, we wouldn't be in business. But there are so many people who care deeply
for the horses they take care of. Being able to appreciate and respect the
animal enough to be able to take excellent care of it and detaching yourself
enough to understand that they won't always be there, knowing that this is a
business, is a tough line to walk. You have to combine the two, but many people
just think we could care less what happens so long as we have cash coming in.
How would you convince someone who is
not an avid follower of horse racing to begin following the sport?
I'd take them to Saratoga! It's hard to not be in love with racing when
you're at that track or in the town. Beyond that, though, I would just try to
get them to find a story that they like. You know, like Seabiscuit or
Secretariat, Ruffian, or anybody, really. That's how a lot of people get into
it. Once you love one horse, you start to love the sport - or so it was for me
and seems to be for several of my friends. There are a lot of different ways to
try to get convince someone to follow the sport; they really just have to be
willing to be interested.
What career do you plan to pursue in the
horse racing industry?
My ultimate goal is to become a turf writer and photographer. I've always
loved writing, and I've always loved horses, so it just makes sense to combine
the two. My role models have always been Claire Novak and Barbara Livingston,
and when I was younger I used to think, “I want to be half as good as them!”
They're both really wonderful and kind women who love this sport, the horses,
and their jobs. They've done nothing but encourage me to chase my dreams.
How are you currently contributing to
the horse racing industry?
I write as much as I possibly can, and have been published on both Horse
Racing Nation and The Blood-Horse's website, and I have a blog (that I really
need to update). So far as the photography part, I shoot at every track I go to
to try to improve my work, and I ask for tips from people I know are willing to
give them. I'm a thoroughbred racing major at Morrisville State College, where
I'm extremely lucky to have a racing professor (who is also my adviser) who
encourages me to pursue my dreams, and he graciously lets me take photos of our
horses as practice for later in life. I try to get people interested in the
sport by means of my education and my photography, and I just try to be the
best ambassador that I know to be. It isn't always easy, but it wouldn't be
worth it if it were.
What is one thing you aspire to
personally accomplish someday in the horse racing industry?
Eventually I would like to be a part of the staff for The Blood-Horse,
own a couple of my own runners, and help organizations such as Old Friends,
Remember Me Rescue, and Florida Thoroughbred Retirement and Adoptive Care
Visit Ciara’s blog here and be sure to follow her on Instagram (@intothestretch).