Photo: Sarah Gaston
“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 Margaret Gaston
Eighteen-year-old Margaret Gaston was
born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. A fan of horse racing since she was
in middle school, Margaret showed up four years ago wanting to work in Allen
Milligan’s barn. There, she started out as a hot walker but, in her words, “he
kind of got stuck with an adopted daughter.” She currently owns two Thoroughbreds
and a Quarter Horse, and plans on attending Oklahoma State University. Be sure
to follow her popular horse racing photography account on Instagram, @racehorsesofinstagram.
How did you become interested in horse
I’ve always enjoyed
the races, but I didn’t really know much about it. My grandparents had a box
and I’d get to bring friends and watch the races. My interest sparked as a
freshman in high school. A year earlier I was given a 20-year-old thoroughbred
named Stately Dinner. His personality and work ethic sucked me into the breed.
On a weekend trip to the races my aunt took me to Allen Milligan’s barn. I mentioned that I wanted another
ex-racehorse, and I wanted to work on the backside. I showed up the next
weekend to start hot walking and was greeted with “Hey, want this horse?” I
took him home and returned every weekend for the rest of the meet. They’ve been
stuck with me since January 2011; I made myself part of the family.
What do you love about horse racing?
I love the horses;
they come first. I love the people I’ve met and the connections I’ve made. When
I say my “friends” at the track, the majority is old enough to be my parents or
even grandparents, but I love them all so much and usually prefer them over my
hometown school friends. I love the anxiety of the start and the adrenaline of
the stretch. I love the connections made with the horses and the pride you feel
when they run, even if they don’t win. The heart of a Thoroughbred is one of my
favorite things in the world.
Who are some of the people you admire in
the industry and why?
Oh wow, so many
people I wish I could mention. Scooter
Dickey was the one to open my eyes to the backside. I stayed with his
family for the 2007 Kentucky Derby. He let me tag along in the mornings and
made the backside a magical place for my 11-year old-eyes. I have been a fan of
Flat Out since his Oaklawn days and
I will argue until I die: Scooter made that horse. Allen Milligan took me under his wing, he adopted me into Milligan
Racing and puts up with my shenanigans every weekend. To me, he’s an honest horseman
and great trainer and I’ve enjoyed the last four years working for him and
can’t express my appreciation for everything he’s done for me. Not naming
names, but I really admire our vets because they help me every chance they get
to learn something and they save horses and that’s just awesome. I also want to
give credit to the grooms and hotwalkers, who don’t get as much recognition,
but without them a stable doesn’t run. Go backsiders!
What aspects of horse racing do you wish you knew more about?
I wish I knew more
about the anatomy of the horse. One of my biggest curiosities is what goes on
inside. I want to know what the medicines affect and how everything works. It
just really fascinates me: the bones and muscles and such.
How often do you go to the races?
During the Oaklawn
meet I go every weekend. However, I’ve been major slacking this year because
senior year is crazy. During the summer I take a month and travel with Allen to
his summer tracks and that’s always fun.
What racetracks have you been to?
Churchill Downs, Prairie Meadows, Horseman’s Park, Lone Star Park, Louisiana
Downs, Fairgrounds, Remington Park
What are your favorite moments in your “horse racing life” thus far?
Probably my biggest
moment was right before the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2013. Gary Stevens was in a short clip on NBC Sports talking about Oxbow,
and his recent return to racing. I heard him mention that after the Kentucky Derby,
there was this great picture he saw on Twitter of him pulling up in the Derby
and I thought “Oh my gosh, what if…” Then it showed the picture I took of Gary
on Oxbow and Mike Smith on Palace Malice and my caption was “2 legends plotting
their revenge in the next 2 legs of the Triple Crown” and I literally flew
backwards in my chair and screamed bloody murder. It was awesome.
Who are your favorite racehorses of your lifetime? Before your lifetime?
My favorite famous
horse is by far Barbaro. I am head over heels; he is perfection. But during my
years I have grown fond of a few claimers and I can’t let them go unmentioned:
Allensworth, Sunset Stroll, Pack Your PJs, Valrico, and Path Resident. Before my lifetime? John Henry; he could do
If you could change something about the industry, what would you change?
I think questions
like this are hard because, while there are things that need to be changed, I
don’t believe it will happen. I would like to see horses not started so young
and drugs not used as frequently as they are. Just the typical…
What do you think is preventing horse racing from being a more popular sport?
Need I mention
PETA’s latest attack on Steve Asmussen? It’s things like that turn people away.
I wish they understood that not everyone in the business is bad, though there
definitely are people who ruin it for the rest of the honest trainers. Someone
sees one horse come off the track in bad shape and they assume that they all
end up like that. Someone hears of an incidence of drugging and suddenly all
racehorses are drugged. Someone sees one crazy Thoroughbred flip and they deem
all Thoroughbreds nutcases. It’s all assumptions and stereotypes. While I agree
there are bad people in the industry, it’s really not a bad place.
How would you convince someone who is not an avid follower of horse racing to
begin following the sport?
Take them to morning
training; that’s the fun part. Of course you get the occasional exercise rider
who rides by cussing their horse. I love when the first set goes out and it’s
cool and sometimes you can’t see them coming, but you can hear them breathing.
I think watching a horse gallop by, having a good time is an easy way to get
someone hooked. But, you either have it or you don’t; not everyone can
appreciate the sport.
What career do you plan to pursue in the horse racing industry?
I’m planning on
becoming a vet so we’ll see how that works! I would like to be a track vet, but
if I ever get tired of moving around, I want to settle somewhere and work on
How are you currently contributing to the horse racing industry?
I consider myself
the unofficial “Wal-Mart greeter” of Oaklawn. I stand on the rail taking
pictures and saying “Good morning” to everyone that rides by. I’m supposed to
be a hot walker but taking pictures is more fun.
What is one thing you aspire to personally accomplish someday in the horse
I just really want
to be a vet. A personal accomplishment would be to save a horse’s life; I don’t
think anything could be more rewarding. At some point, I would really like to
have a few horses to rehab and rehome; that’s been a goal of mine since I
started my OTTB, Bull. It’s all about the horses; I just love them.