A true fan of horse racing can almost always tell you when they became hooked on the sport. Whether it is a singular memorable moment, or a period of time that allowed their heart and soul to fall for the sport of kings, as a collective group, we never forget our first time. For Ryan Brady, it came when he was ten years old and enjoying the parties his father threw for national telecasts of races featuring Cigar.
What do I look for when deciding on Horse Racing Nation’s Fan of the Year? The short answer would be it takes a very special person. The more detailed answer would include a cornucopia of examples how this person demonstrates their pure love for horse racing on a daily basis. Ryan Brady is just such a person, and today I honor his great love for the sport by naming him the Horse Racing Nation’s 2012 Tim Reynolds Memorial Fan of the Year.
Selecting the Fan of the Year is not an easy task. There are countless wonderful people that I considered for the award this year, but it was Ryan who I felt to be the most deserving. He goes above and beyond the average fan, and always does so in a positive way. Follow Ryan on Facebook for as little as a day and you quickly realize that he loves horses, loves horse racing, and that he is more than willing do whatever it takes to make sure that he shares this love with as many people as possible.
I first had the pleasure of meeting Ryan at this spring’s Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park. “Zipse!” “Zipse!” I heard, and as my wife and I turned, we saw a smiling young man that introduced himself as Ryan Brady. I immediately recognized the name from his consistently positive posts online that always demonstrated his commitment and passion for thoroughbred horse racing. With a click of the camera, and his signature thumbs-up pose, Ryan and I added one another to our growing list of racetrack friends. Easy going and friendly, I found Ryan to be not only likeable immediately, but as someone who possessed an infectious love for a day at the races.
I recently learned that Ryan’s sincere appreciation for horse racing may in part come from a personal appreciation for life itself. You see when Ryan was 13 years old he was diagnosed with bone cancer in his leg. He was bed stricken for a year after removing a tumor and having his bone replaced with a metal rod in his leg. I’ll let Ryan explain in his own words how racing played such an important role during his sickness and recovery.
“As I was in the hospital, I watched the races on the television, such as the Breeders' Cup, and saw a segment about an organization called Kids to the Cup (KTTC). It showed how ordinary kids entered essay contests to achieve their dream of going to the Breeders Cup, the Triple Crown, and other big racing events. After I was done with my chemo treatments, I decided to enter one of their essay contests for the Santa Anita Derby. I won the contest and I got an all-expenses paid trip to Santa Anita Park to see Point Given win the Santa Anita Derby. I got to meet racing’s biggest stars, such as Bob Baffert, D. Wayne Lukas, and John Sadler, and many others. We got to go behind the scenes with an all-access pass, and it was all thanks to Trudy McCaffery’s organization. That experience opened up a whole new door of seeing racing in a new and positive light… the way it was meant to be.” Since that time, Ryan has strived to give back to the sport that means so much to him. He has engaged the casual race-goer to become racing fans at his local racetrack, other tracks across the country that he visits, as well as online. Perhaps nothing illustrates this so clearly as a story Ryan told me recently. After his experience with Kids to the Cup at the Santa Anita Derby, he organized a local trip to his home track of Thistledown that year for a “Kids to the Cup” day. Due to Ryan’s efforts the kids were given an experience they will likely never forget, including presenting a winner’s trophy, touring the backstretch, and having breakfast as the horses worked out. Ryan says it was a great experience that led to many new fans of horse racing.
Ryan continues to be an ambassador for racing in Northern Ohio, bringing people to the backside. He introduces them to the jockeys, trainers, grooms, and of course the horses. He enjoys teaching them about the sport, how to handicap the races, and even how to use the wagering machines in the grandstand, considering himself a personal tour guide of the track he lovingly calls the Big T. There can be no doubt that he not only loves the sport and his home track, but he feels the calling to give back. Ryan explains it best, “I feel that it is my duty to bring people into the sport so that the sport can thrive again, returning to its rightful place as an integral part of American culture.”
The next time I would see this fantastic fan would be during Kentucky Derby week, and specifically at the Ferdinand’s Ball. It was fitting to see Ryan at an event dedicated to making sure retired Thoroughbreds get a well-earned, safe and dignified retirement. We shared a drink and a few laughs, as we supported Old Friends, an organization that is both near and dear to our hearts. I have not run into Ryan since then, although it would have been no surprise if I had.
Ryan tells me that he has visited eleven racetracks this year alone. Doing what he does, having a good time and helping others to do the same. If you are not already, be sure to request Ryan as a friend on Facebook, as his posts are well worth the trouble. Even better, strike up a friendship with the smiling young man at the track. Just look for the thumbs up and you’ll know you’ve found Ryan Brady. And a finer fan of thoroughbred horse racing you will likely never meet again.
For the first time it will be my sincere pleasure to present Horse Racing Nation's Tim Reynolds Memorial Fan of the Year Award in person at the ThoroFan brunch at Gulfstream Park on Sunday, January 20. Until then, Ryan Brady of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, I salute you, and the world of horse racing salutes you. Congratulations, you are the Fan of the Year.