Photo: Ryan Martin
“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.
From Louisville, Kentucky, 21-year-old Ryan Martin believes he is the person most passionate about racing to be featured in “Racing’s Future” to date. Having been a racing fan for about as long as he can remember, his love and passion for the sport began when his dad would take him to Churchill Downs as a little boy. That love and passion that he developed at a young age has only continued to grow. Now an equine business major at the University of Louisville, Ryan is studying to someday work in the racing industry. Last summer, he interned with the Saratoga Special, a newspaper that is distributed during the summer meet at Saratoga. Through this, he was able to interact with many prominent horsemen, including Todd Pletcher, Shug McGaughey, John Velazquez, and Rosie Napravnik. He is currently a tour guide at the Kentucky Derby Museum, and at the beginning of the year was the public relations intern for the museum.
How did you become interested in horse racing?
I became interested in racing when I was very young. My dad was a huge racing fan and would take me to Churchill Downs a lot when I was just a little boy. I remember the first time I went to a horse race. It was Opening Day of Churchill Downs' spring meet in 1997. Seeing the Twin Spires for the first time was a very special moment for me. It was there that I developed a love and passion for racing. That love and passion would only progress with time. It seems that the older I get, the more I love racing.
What do you love about horse racing?
To be honest, I don't know what it is about horse racing that I love. It's just something that has been a big part of my life since I was a little boy. That's never gone away, and I never want it to go away. Racing is just a great sport that I have come to develop a strong love and passion for throughout my whole life
Who are some of the people you admire in the industry and why?
There are many people in the industry that I admire.
Pat Day: Growing up going to the races at Churchill Downs, I saw Pat Day win a lot of races. I can recall a time I went to Arlington Park when I was 10 and he won, I think, eight races that day. I met him for the first time that day after the last race when I went to get his autograph, and I was beyond star struck when I did! I really like him because he always seems to have such a positive attitude. It didn't matter if he won or finished last on a 1-5 favorite. He was always nice and maintained such a positive attitude. I can’t say that about a lot of other people in the game.
Bob Baffert: He started becoming a well-known trainer around the time I started getting into the sport. I really respect him for what he's done for the game. I don't think there's any question that Baffert is one of the best trainers in racing today. Last year, Baffert saw me give a tour during Derby week and later that week, he brought a big group of people into the museum. He saw me and told me how great my tour was earlier that week and how knowledgeable I was, which really put a smile on my face. Baffert telling you that you’re knowledgeable about racing is like Jesus saying you’re going to heaven!
Sean Clancy: You may not know who he is, but he is one of the founders of the Saratoga Special. He and his brother Joe both got the publication started back in 2001. They also own ST Publishing, which distributes a publication called the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred. Clancy was once a steeplechase jockey. The reason why I admire him so much is because he was responsible for getting me the internship at the Special last summer and he is a really good writer. Read some of his stuff if you ever get a chance! He is very well-known within the racing community, especially among the trainers and owners at Saratoga, I don't know anyone who has a bad thing to say about the guy. I remember the night Wise Dan won the Fourstardave, I was at the office editing papers, and he walked by me and said something that I will never forget. He said, "You know, Martin, we've really changed your life, haven't we? What would you be doing back in Louisville on a night like this, scooping up ice cream? But here you are watching Wise Dan win the Fourstardave!" He was right. That experience definitely changed my life, and I will forever be grateful for that.
John Asher: Vice President of Communications at Churchill Downs. I've known Asher since I was a young boy. He is very well-known and well-respected within the racing community, and even here in Louisville. He is outstanding at his job and, like me, is very passionate about this sport. He is the kind of person that I want to be in 20 to 30 years.
I admire many more people in racing; the list would be far too long if I listed them all. But I just admire all the horsemen and jockeys overall. Ever since I was a little boy, I looked up to all of them. They were like celebrities in my eyes, and I would be lying to you if I told you that I still don't get a little star struck whenever I see them in person!
What aspects of horse racing do you wish you knew more about?
I never was brought up around horses. That being said, I don't know much about the animal itself. I wish I knew more about that side of racing. I know how to read a form, I know the history, and I know all the important figures in racing, but I don't know a whole lot about the animal. Putting the racing aspect aside, I really love horses. I think that they're just such cool animals!
What racetracks have you been to?
I have been to Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Arlington, Turfway, Santa Anita, Saratoga, Oaklawn and Ellis Park.
What is your favorite racetrack? Why?
It's a photo finish between Keeneland and Saratoga. They're both very similar in the sense that they both provide the best quality racing in the country. I'd say that Keeneland wins by a nostril just because it’s right in the heart of horse country. Both Keeneland and Saratoga should be on every racing fan's bucket list, in my opinion.
Of the racetracks you have not been to, which one do you want to visit most?
There are a lot of racetracks that I have not yet visited, but would like to. I have always loved watching the Dubai World Cup, so I'd say Meydan Race Course.
What are your favorite moments in your “horse racing life” thus far?
I have tons. One of the biggest was probably last summer when I interned for the Saratoga Special (see question #1 for more info). It was such a life changing experience! My first Derby (2010) is also up there. The first Breeders' Cup I ever attended, also in 2010, is also up there, mainly because I got to see Zenyatta run in person for the first (and only) time. Last year's Derby was also a pretty big racing moment for me from a betting standpoint. I landed the Oaks-Woodford-Derby Pick 3, which ended up paying over $1,000. Needless to say, I was pretty stoked after that!
Who are your favorite racehorses of your lifetime? Before your lifetime?
My favorite horse of all time is easily Zenyatta. She was just such a fun and exciting horse to watch run. I liked how she didn't just win races, but she put on a show when she did her little dance out on the track and in the paddock. She was the best, and she knew it. I love how she captured the attention of many non-racing fans across the country. With horse racing not being a very popular sport, I like that it seemed to become a little more popular when Zenyatta was on the track. I also love Street Sense, since he was the first Kentucky Derby winner I ever picked. And of course, I love Wise Dan. I was at Turfway when he broke his maiden back in 2010, and I'm pretty sure that I've seen him run more times than any other horse (13 times). And, like Zenyatta, he's just a fun horse to watch run. As a little boy, I was a big fan of Skip Away. He was really the first horse that I can remember liking. And I loved Azeri when she ran. Before Zenyatta, she was probably my favorite of all time.
Before my lifetime, I don't really have any specific favorites. I appreciate what horses like Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed did for the game. I'm the kind of guy who likes watching horses run for a long time, which is why I really liked horses like Wise Dan, Brass Hat, The Tin Man, and Perfect Drift. So I really like Forego, Kelso, and John Henry. They were veteran warriors that had long racing careers and were very easy to root for.
If you could change something about the industry, what would you change?
I just wish that racing had an overall better image, so one thing that I would change about racing is giving more severe punishments to trainers who violate the rules when it comes to drugs and treatment of the horses. Racing has an image to uphold and I think racing has really failed in that regard. Trainers who continue to violate the rules should not continue to get slapped on the wrist because then they'll just keep breaking the rules. And that's why animal rights organizations like PETA continue to criticize the racing industry, because we don't punish our violators severely enough, in my opinion.
Another thing I wish racing would do is make the Road to the Kentucky Derby more of a tournament style. I think it’s very interesting how a lot of non-racing fans go out of their way to watch the Derby, but they know nothing about any of the horses in the race. I think that if we made those three to six prep races before the Derby a lot more of a tournament style, then more people, aside from racing fans, would watch the Blue Grass Stakes and the Louisiana Derby and other preps. I think it would be interesting if they made it similar to the NCAA tournament and the brackets: have it to where all the fields for the prep races are drawn on the same day and fans can predict the Derby field, in a similar way that basketball fans can fill out a bracket. Something like that, I think, could make the Road to the Kentucky Derby more marketable. I personally love the new point system that Churchill has in place, regardless of what the horsemen say. But I think Churchill could market it a lot better by making it more of a tournament style or even having the prep schedule set up in bars, restaurants, and taverns. I also wish that they would do the same thing with the Breeders' Cup. Make the road to the Breeders' Cup more of a tournament style. The Win and You're In thing is neat, but I think they can expand on that and make it more of something for the fans to enjoy.
What do you think is preventing horse racing from being a more popular sport?
There are lots of reasons why horse racing isn't a popular sport and I think that my responses to this question and the question above go hand in hand. I think some of it has to do with the fact that it doesn't have the best of images at times. The whole Eight Belles controversy didn't help a single bit with that. This goes back to what I said in the previous question about changing the image of the game. If racing would make more of an initiative of polishing its outer image, then perhaps more people would enjoy the sport.
I also think it’s not popular because people just like other sports more. It's not that people don't like horse racing, it's just that they don't really care about it aside from Derby and random trips to the racetrack because they are busy watching more popular sports like football and basketball.
What do you think is the most common misconception about horse racing?
The most common misconception about racing is that it is full of a bunch of greedy, selfish millionaires who don’t care about the animal and only care about the money in their pockets. If only some of those people knew how trainers like Graham Motion, Mark Casse, or Charlie LoPresti ran things. They would have a totally different outlook on the sport. It really makes me sad and angry when people buy into the lie that horse racing is full of bad people. Like any other industry, horse racing does have its fair share of bad apples and I think that it’s the responsibility of the racetracks and the NTRA to punish and, in extreme cases, do away with them.
How would you convince someone who is not an avid follower of horse racing to begin following the sport?
I’ve tried doing this many times with all of my non-racing friends! Mainly just by trying to get them to come to the track. Whenever there’s a Downs After Dark event or when Keeneland is open, I try to invite some of my fraternity brothers out to the races, and they seem to enjoy it quite a bit. But it’s really difficult to get someone to become a fan of the sport for some reason, mainly because it isn’t as popular a sport as football or basketball. My best friend Jared says he isn’t into racing because he thinks that there is too much time in between races and that it gets boring for him. I've heard other people say similar things.
But in order to convince someone to become a fan of the sport, I would just tell them about the thrill and excitement that comes along with it. The great thing about horse racing is that it's the ultimate participation sport. You aren't restricted to just watching the event like in most other sports. In horse racing, you can participate by betting or even joining a racing partnership, like Blinkers On or West Point Thoroughbreds. I think that, in order to convince someone to become a fan of the sport, a great place to start would be the prep races leading up to the Derby, where you can say "Hey, these horses will be in the Kentucky Derby, so you can pick your Derby horse early before anyone else." and then try to get them hooked that way.
What career do you plan to pursue in the horse racing industry?
There are many different types of careers that I would like to pursue. I would like to pursue any type of media-related job in the industry. Writing for a publication like the Blood-Horse or the Daily Racing Form is definitely something that I am interested in doing. What I would really like to do is work in the TV or radio part of it. Working for TVG or HRTV are some of my dream jobs. I have also always been interested in becoming a track announcer as well. I'm also interested in working for some of the prestigious horse farms doing marketing.
How are you currently contributing to the horse racing industry?
I contribute a lot of money every weekend as a bettor! I wouldn’t consider a tour guide at the Kentucky Derby Museum a real, industry-related job. However, I contribute a lot of passion and enthusiasm for the game, which in my opinion is something very important. These days with horse racing not being a popular sport, horse racing needs people who are passionate and enthusiastic about the game, which I definitely am. My love and passion for the sport goes a very, very long way, and I hope that one day I can express that passion and enthusiasm through a career in racing.
What is one thing you aspire to personally accomplish someday in the horse racing industry?
My dream is to become a name within the racing community. Whether I am a well-known writer for the Blood-Horse or the Daily Racing Form, a prominent horse owner, a track announcer or someone on TVG or HRTV, I hope that one day everyone in the racing industry knows who I am. I want to help racing become a more popular sport, and I have some ideas that I can't wait to share with the racing world! Racing was very popular at one point in American history, so there’s no reason as to why that can't happen again. I've got some big dreams about my future in racing and I look forward to seeing those dreams become a reality!