Photo: Ronnie Hester Photography
“Racing’s Future” is a 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 Emily Simcox
Emily Simcox, a 16-year-old who lives in southwestern Virginia, has been a horse racing fan for nearly four years. Most of her time is dedicated to competing on the National Barrel Horse Association barrel racing circuit with her own Quarter Horses, but she is also one of the owners of two racehorses at Flying G Racing.
How did you become interested in horse racing?
It was completely my mom's idea. I was 12 years old, and had come home from a riding lesson earlier in the day. It's actually kind of funny, because I was climbing a tree in my yard when my mom came outside and asked me if I'd like to watch this thing called the Kentucky Derby. I thought it sounded like a lot of fun, and I was right! Throughout the rest of the year, that casual spark of interest blossomed into what soon came to be a full-scale obsession with horses running in ovals.
What do you love about horse racing?
I love analyzing all the different prospects along the road to a major race, and getting to know each horse's story. Horse racing is decidedly different from the majority of equine disciplines in that it is entirely objective, with no judges to shun anyone for a less than fabulous conformation, or pedigree lacking royalty. It really is an underdog friendly sport, where anyone with a dream and a fast horse has a shot at making it big. Something about this, paired with my natural need for speed and obsessiveness when it comes to picking things apart, really draws me in.
It is one of the very few sports where you can show up at a major, multi-million dollar event and have the opportunity to chat with its highest ranked athletes. There's a level of hands-on appeal in racing that is hard to find anywhere else.
Other than that, it's just magic. It's hard for me to explain exactly what it is, but there's a feeling I can't get anywhere but at the racetrack that always has me coming back for more. I'm addicted, and I'm not exactly sure what to.
Who are some of the people you admire in the industry and why?
I admire anyone who does right by the horse, and who understands that a horse holds value beyond his ability to make money for people. As far as well-known trainers go, I really like Michael Matz and Graham Motion.
With jockeys, I of course look up to those pioneering females who were able to overcome the odds a traditionally male dominated society has stacked against them. Julie Krone is a huge inspiration, as are the newer generation ladies such as Rosie Napravnik and Emma-Jayne Wilson.
What aspects of horse racing do you wish you knew more about?
I wish I knew more about the day to day life of those who work on the backside of the racetrack, and all the little things that go into getting a horse ready for the winner's circle. Compared to most, I know a good deal about the sport, but I really don't know a whole lot when it comes to the details of a horse's training.
What racetracks have you been to?
Keeneland, Churchill, Colonial Downs, and Charles Town
What is your favorite racetrack? Why?
Keeneland. It is Utopia. I can't imagine many places I'd rather be. It has so much history bottled into it, and just a magical vibe to it that really makes you wonder how you could ever do anything with your life other than work with racehorses.
Of the racetracks you have not been to, which one do you want to visit most?
Either Saratoga or Santa Anita. You hardly ever hear anything other than glowing reviews of either, and judging by pictures, they have the same old school charm that I love so much about Keeneland.
What are your favorite moments in your “horse racing life” thus far?
My racehorses' first wins!
When Nan Cee Cee Flies, my first Thoroughbred, made a deep closing move to my first ever win as an owner, I physically couldn't wipe the smile from my face. The year before she had almost died from colitis, and for a while it had been a series of disappointments with her anxiety problems and lack of focus that usually resulted in poor finishes. When she finally turned things around and nabbed a win in Zenyatta-esque fashion, I was ecstatic. Racehorses are like your kids, and I was just so proud of her and all she had accomplished, and the doubts she had proven wrong – including my own.
The other notable win came in the debut of Only I Know, my now 3-year-old gelding. It was a sprint, and I didn't expect much from his first start, but when he up and decided he didn't want to walk out of the gate like in the mornings, and went straight to the lead, I knew no one could catch him at the quarter pole. He won by twelve lengths, and I don't think I can ever forget the feeling.
Who are your favorite racehorses of your lifetime? Before your lifetime?
Of my life time, Union Rags! I followed him since his win in the Saratoga Special, and fell more in love with him with every race. There were dizzy highs and devastating lows, but in the end it was all worth it. His win in the Belmont ranks right up there with my own horses' wins. When you're passionate about a racehorse the way I was with Union Rags, you care just about as much as if you had a stake in the ownership.
Other horses of note from my time spent following the sport are Ice Box, Zenyatta, Uncle Mo, Wise Dan, Caixa Eletronica, and Will Take Charge. Probably a lot of others whose names I'm forgetting.
Of the horses who ran before my lifetime, Kelso tops them all for me. He was and is the model for consistency and soundness, something certainly not valued enough in today's industry.
If you could change something about the industry, what would you change?
I would love to see the industry make a shift away from breeding fine-boned milers designed to hit their best stride by the end of their two- or three-year-old season. There is way too much value placed on 1 1/16-mile two-year-old stakes, and not enough incentive to keep a horse training into their four- or five-year-old year. By jumping and barrel racing standards, a six-year-old is a young horse nowhere near its long-term potential. In racing, where there is nowhere near enough money or prestige in the older divisions to warrant risking thin ankles that long, the most valued bloodlines are often those of colts who retired lame before the Triple Crown was even over.
Theoretically, were there to be money and fame pumped into a series of races exclusive to horses four (or even five) and up, and value detracted from races like the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, owners would seek out bloodlines that fit the bill beyond the wire of the Derby (which as it is, horses are barely bred to limp past). Studs would need to be selected that had their fame beyond their two-year-old season, which would increase the demand for longer racing careers, and hence, exploit the bloodlines that can't hold up under pressure. With less money to be made off of retiring early, the favor would be for taking the time to rest a horse from a superficial injury rather than allow it to shuttle them off to the breeding shed for no good reason.
The above illustration is flawed, but the message conveyed by the short, injury-ridden careers of modern Thoroughbreds is clear: we need to give breeders and owners better incentive for building a stronger, longer-lasting horse. Everyone - fans, trainers, jockeys, horses, and the sport as a whole - would benefit.
What do you think is preventing horse racing from being a more popular sport?
Bad marketing, and not enough opportunity for youth to get involved. Figures and numbers and online betting are great, but at the end of the day, the true "magic" of the sport and its magnificent equine competitors isn't put out there on enough display. "Young adults, go bet online!" is all you often hear, but you seldom see the sport presented to young people as a "fandom" of sorts, which is a shame given the excitement and plot twists and the unique back story of each individual horse. Considering the TV shows other girls my age are so easily drawn into, racing may be more marketable if it took a similar, "telling the story, not just the figures" approach. People want to see the colors and the action and excitement, which is hard to get a grasp on when the only information they can access is a sheet of figures no beginner is going to understand, let alone want to pursue. Sites like America's Best Racing and several blogs on Tumblr "get it" a lot more than the industry as a whole seems to. There is a lot of charisma in this sport that people aren't taking advantage of.
What do you think is the most common misconception about horse racing?
People are misled to believe that there is nothing but bad in the racing industry. Like anything else, it is a sport where there are going to be corrupt people out for nothing but personal gain. The problem in the animal abuse that goes on at the racetrack is not in the sport itself, but that there are bad people in all facets of the world, particularly when there's money to be made. As long as all animals and workers are taken care of, there is nothing inherently wrong about running horses around a track. There are many people who make their horses' well-being the priority, and who would rather lose money by retiring a good, but injured gelding to a second career as a pleasure horse than risk running him again and again on bad joints. The problem is that you don't see all the good done in the industry published in the New York Times, only the mishaps and shady figures. The public is spoon fed a very slanted view of the racing world.
How would you convince someone who is not an avid follower of horse racing to begin following the sport?
I would take them with me to Keeneland and let them see for themselves the beauty of the equine athletes, and the overall enthusiasm of the sport.
What career do you plan to pursue in the horse racing industry?
Since shortly after I first discovered the sport, it has been my dream to become a jockey. While most childhood dreams seem to fade out over time as reality sets in, I've only come closer to my goal as time goes on. God willing that I stay on course, I hope to be able to become one of the few people who can genuinely say they do what they love for a living.
How are you currently contributing to the horse racing industry?
I am currently blessed to be involved as one of the owners of two racehorses from Flying G Racing: Only I Know (three-year-old allowance winner) and Voynich (two-year-old being trained up in Canada). I hope to get a job working with racehorses sometime in the near future.
What is one thing you aspire to personally accomplish someday in the horse racing industry?
I would love to have the opportunity to ride and win in the country's top stakes, and add to the growing realization that women can ride a horse race every bit as well as a man. God has blessed me with a dream and a talent, and I hope to use it to make things better for both people and animals in the horse world.