Photo: Shelley Clark
“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 Grace Clark
Grace Clark, 14, a racing fan
from Franklin, Kentucky, has loved horses for most of her life. This love
blossomed into a love of horse racing, a sport for which she has big dreams. Be
sure to follow Grace on Instagram, @graceeewell,
and like her Facebook page for her art, Canine and Equine Art.
How did you become interested in horse
I was raised in a
family where my sisters did jumpers and dressage, so a love of horses was
imminent. I remember at the end of sixth grade I started drawing Arabian
horses, and that branched off into Thoroughbreds, eventually. My first memory I
have of really watching a race other than the Derby or Preakness was the 2012
Sunland Derby, and picking Daddy Nose Best to win, who was my horse for the Derby that year (we know how that
What do you love about horse racing?
I love the thrill of
it. Watching horses battle neck and neck down the stretch and jumping up and
down and screaming, is just something I don’t think other sports can give you.
But the horses are truly why this sport continues to captivate me. They run
simply because they love it, and are so unlike other athletes, who do it for
the money, who are rude because they can be, and sometimes it seems aren’t in
it because it’s their passion. But these horses just go out and do what they
want because they want it, and they are just a breed of athlete that we rarely
Who are some of the people you admire in
the industry and why?
The Coach, D. Wayne Lukas. He is such an
outstanding trainer and person, and the fact that he is out there training
better than most people ever have and ever will, at the age of 78, still amazes
me. He is one of those people who has a palpable greatness that wavers in the
air around him. I admire him for never giving up, and treating these animals
like the royalty they are.
What aspects of horse racing do you wish you knew more about?
what goes on behind the scenes. I really want to train horses, but I would have
no idea where to start! It just seems so incredible to take a skittish,
sometimes high strung animal like a Thoroughbred, and convince them to load
into a metal gate and run on command.
What racetracks have you been to?
Downs, Kentucky Downs and Mt. Pleasant Meadows
What is your favorite racetrack? Why?
It’s incredibly beautiful, and though I love Keeneland, it’s pretty much a
party/hang out type of track for the most part. The Downs on the other hand, is
all about the horses, as a track should be. Churchill is so much fun to go to,
because nearly everyone there was kind, it was clean, and most of all, the
horses and the history. It’s amazing to be able to go to a track that has
housed the likes of Zenyatta, Secretariat, Whirlaway and Alysheba.
Of the racetracks you have not been to, which one do you want to visit most?
Santa Anita Park for sure!
What are your favorite moments in your
“horse racing life” thus far?
Well, this is
probably going to be a large paragraph about Will Take Charge, so let me apologize ahead of time. I picked Will
out late 2012/early 2013 (before the Smarty Jones for sure), honestly because
he looks exactly like the horse I ride in my lessons. It made me feel so good
that I picked out this horse before he was a star, since honestly, I’m not the
best handicapper out there. I convinced my mom to take me to the Clark
Handicap, largely in part because I wrote a list of ‘Ten Reasons We Should Go
to the Clark’. Tears came to my eyes when I finally got to see him! It was so
exhilarating to be able to be there to see him win, and when I also managed to
‘photo bomb’ one of the pictures from Churchill Downs of him, and get a spot
right next to the winners circle. Yet it gets even better, because when my
sister and I were walking back to the track from the photographer’s office, she
said “Hey, isn’t that the trainer?”, and there was D. Wayne Lukas, right in
front of me. Through even more tears and shock, I asked for a picture with him,
and he happily obliged, putting his arm around me. Afterwards I managed to get
out a quick congratulations and thanks for bringing Will Take Charge to
absolute perfection. So, Will Take Charge has brought me my greatest joys in
racing, that’s for sure.
Who are your favorite racehorses of your lifetime? Before your lifetime?
Favorites of my time
would be Will Take Charge and Zenyatta.
Before my time, Affirmed and Ruffian.
If you could change something about the industry, what would you change?
I would have horses
start later, at 3, and the Triple Crown races, Travers, etc. at 4. While it’s
only another year, in that year, horses would be able to develop into much
sounder animals. That’s one of the things that I hate about this sport, is that
these animals run for us, and would die for our pleasures, but we can’t give
them some simple things. That extra year would help with training, and while
patience is somewhat weak in the industry, I think it would help a lot. Too
many horses are being retired to stud after three-year-old campaigns – ones that,
honestly, would make some of the three-year-olds from the 1900’s roll over in
their graves. It’s an embarrassing reflection upon us as a sport. If horses
were sounder, and running longer, we might be able to gain more fans, and also
have a much stronger breed on our hands.
What do you think is preventing horse racing from being a more popular sport?
It’s just not what
people are used to, I think. They are used to full-on teams that they can side
with, wear jerseys for, that will play against each other for hours at a time,
not two minutes. I think, overall unknowingness and, sadly, ignorance is
pushing people away. It can be confusing sometimes, especially if you are a
newcomer trying to read a race program (those still confuse me every now and
then!) People also just don’t have a healthy respect for animals anymore. When
I was at Keeneland, people were watching horses in the paddock on the big
screen, when they were 15 feet away from the paddock. While I want our sport to
have fans, I mean, come on, you are there for the party. If you make the track
not just a party, but also a good experience to be with the animals, I believe
that would build fans. Also, I think that the amount of horses that break down,
have premature retirements, or die, scare some people away. I mean, racing
used to be America’s sport! Why can’t we do this again?
What do you think is the most common misconception about horse racing?
That the horses are
abused, and if they do not run well, are slaughtered. While yes, this happens, and
is appalling, such is not the situation for everything. All sports have those
jerks that have to mess it up for everyone. In ours, it just happens that the
public seems to only hear about us when something bad happens. People hear
horror stories from animal rights groups that immediately make them turn away,
and have a view on racing that is completely untrue. They also don’t realize
how many horses go to retirement facilities, and others to great homes to start
new careers. We need to publicize the retirement options, and also how much
people love these horses.
How would you convince someone who is not an avid follower of horse racing to
begin following the sport?
I would show them
some stories of horses like Secretariat, Zenyatta, etc. Then take them to a
racetrack. Once there, I would encourage them to bet (if interested), watch
horses in the paddock, go down to the rail, things like that. I don’t think
that going to the track and getting a box seat on the second floor away from
the horses will do much. You have to see the horses jigging in the post parade,
charging down to the wire and just the overall feel of the track, that’s when
you fall in love.
What career do you plan to pursue in the horse racing industry?
I really would like
to train thoroughbreds! I would also want to own horses and maybe run a small
breeding operation, but mainly training. Being a track/racing photographer is
one of my aspirations as well.
How are you currently contributing to the horse racing industry?
It’s kind of
embarrassing, but besides promoting the sport, not much. I am an artist, and am
using my art on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media to help spread the
sport. I try to be an ambassador as much as I can, but sadly can’t do as much
as I wish I could. I talk it up at school, my barn, and other places as much as
What is one thing you aspire to personally accomplish someday in the horse
I really want to win
the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby. Odds are it won’t happen,
I’ll be fresh out of college, but that would be incredible. As cliché as it may
be, winning the Kentucky Derby, maybe with a homebred that I raised and
trained, is the one thing that I want to achieve above all in the industry
(except for maybe a Triple Crown winner. Maybe!)