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Breeders' Cup 2017
HRN Original Blog:
Around the Oval with Melaina Phipps

Post Time with My Father

I believe the first time I went to the track with my father was in the spring of 2004. My husband had just begun working in the Thoroughbred racing industry the previous fall as an assistant to a hall of fame trainer and our lives had just become crazy and exciting and exhausting all at the same time. While I had my own horse interests, no one else in my family was involved with horses and none of us knew very much about Thoroughbreds at all. An uncle of mine owned a racehorse once, sometime in the 1970s, and we knew what the Triple Crown races were of course, but other than that and a few visits to Belmont and Aqueduct by the boys in the family, it was uncharted territory.


So in April of 2004, while visiting my parents in New York, my dad and I took a trip to Belmont. The main purpose of the outing was to bet on a horse my husband’s employer was running in Kentucky. It was my father who suggested we go to the track to place our bets and watch the simulcast.  I’m sure he didn’t think the local OTB was any place to bring his daughter—he’s very proper that way. We placed our bets and watched the simulcast and were thrilled when our Kentucky horse crossed the finish line first. One thing I have always loved about my father is his ability to enjoy small pleasures. We had hardly won a windfall on our bets, but the joy of this win was written all over his face. He then suggested we try our luck with some of the live racing at Belmont.


Programs in hand we found some seats outside. As I mentioned, our knowledge of Thoroughbred racing was basically nonexistent, so we decided to select our horses based on their names. Of the five or six races that we bet on that day, my dad picked four winners. Beginner’s luck at its best! On the way back to my parents’ place we picked up some pastry to celebrate our good fortune. (Did I mention my family is from Italy? Food plays a big role in our lives.) Of the many memories I have with my father that one is among my favorites. Since then, my parents were always very supportive and tuned in to the big races to which we were connected and shared in the ups and downs of the results. On every visit to Saratoga they would spend the mornings on the rail  at the Oklahoma training track with me, coffee in hand, watching the works.


Last evening I gained another racing memory with my father. Over the last seven years a lot has changed. While I learned a good bit about horse racing and been privy to some really great and historic racing moments, the hectic track life left not nearly enough time to spend with family. This meant not nearly as many moments like Belmont with my dad as I’d have liked. I’m currently visiting the family homestead and last evening my father came into the family room, turned on the television, and after a bit of channel surfing settled on TVG. I thought for sure he would move along after a few minutes, but two races at Hollywood Park later, he was still watching.


At that point the TVG hosts began discussing the entries in the 8th race at Hollywood Park—the G1 Vanity Handicap featuring one of my favorite fillies, Blind Luck. As we started to talk about the race my father said to me, “I really need to see the horses before I pick one . . . .” In no time at all I had opened up a new browser window, logged into my TwinSpires.com account and we were deciphering PPs and watching the live stream from the paddock. Seated together with my laptop on my knees and the TV before us we placed some bets.


He was a bit worried seeing Blind Luck trailing but when she made her move he cheered her on all the way to the finish line. Dad’s racing luck had not run out—he hit the Exacta in the Vanity H. with Blind Luck and Switch and then followed up with winning Win and Show bets in the 9th with Big Business and Coming Thru, respectively. Our bets were conservative, but all in all we won enough for two nice bottles of wine (there’s that Italian in us again . . .). So much more valuable, though, was the fun we had and the excitement in my father’s voice and laugh and a great way to welcome Father’s Day. We already have plans to tune into the Noble Nashua S. at  Belmont this afternoon. Wish us luck!


A very Happy Father’s Day to my father and to all racing and non-racing dads alike! Thanks for everything!!


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Older Comments about Post Time with My Father...

A great father's day tribute!!
great story....thought at first you were brought along up w/ the racing Phipps and it's long time history in the throughbred business, Refreshing to find out otherwise. It's wonderful of you to share your story and to help bring newer, younger, appreciative and enthusiastic(sp?) people to horse racing ..... Thank you... keep up the good work and enjoy the ponies :)
  • MBPhipps · Thanks for your kind words Liz! No, no relation to the famed racing family of the same name. It is however my married name, my maiden name being Balbo (the Italian I mentioned!). I"m glad you enjoyed reading the post. It's been great fun sharing racing with my dad and we will continue to enjoy the ponies, I'm sure! You do the same!! · 2312 days ago
Great story.......
The best blog of the day! I envy your time with your dad --my father passed on last year, but I carry on his spirit. My "track momemt" with dad was seeing him drop a $100 bill on a 5-2 favorite at Oaklawn at the urging of my Uncle "Shell". Seeing a man from the depression era wager a hundo was something, as he was more nervous than at any other time I saw him. He was relieved when the chalk came in first and banked enough for a nice dinner for our whole family. Life was good in Hot Springs on that day and my dad will always be with me at the track. Thanks for the post!
  • MBPhipps · You're too kind! I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for sharing your story with your father. It's wonderful how the seemingly ordinary moments seem to stick with us the most. I've no doubt he's with you at the track--guiding your bets!! :-) · 2316 days ago
My dad got me started on racing too when I was a pre-teen. I learned a lot from him and have carried the passion of racing forward to today!
I was out of work, and living with my folks. I was going stir crazy, and pop asked me, "You want to go to the races?" He knew I was really battling turmoil, being out of work, and I didn't undestand his line of questioning, for he never bet a race. We were so far from a track, but the closest was La Downs in Bossier City, LA. We went, and I hit 5 straight races at a foreign track. Pop never bet a race, but he watched in admiration. He gave me a real thrill that I will never forget. Thanks, pop, you are, and were, my hero. I miss you.
  • MBPhipps · What a great story, thanks so much for sharing! Sometimes our parents know what we need even more than we do. :-) · 2316 days ago
ruffian that's awesome. i'm originally from Shreveport, LA. my father used to take me to LA Downs all the time.
And isn't this what racing should be all about!
Some of my greatest childhood memories are of going to the races with my Dad :)

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Meet Melaina Phipps

I came to horseracing only about a decade ago. (And no, I am no relation to the celebrated racing family of the same name.) My equine interests prior to that began, as they do for most young girls, with riding lessons and horse shows, and ended up with me playing polo while a graduate student at UVA and thereafter. It was entirely unexpected that I should spend time on the backstretch at Saratoga in the summer and on the rail at Payson Park in Florida in the winter watching some of the best trainers and horses in the country work. But that’s where I found myself and where my interest in this wild ride of an industry took shape. I don’t exercise racehorses; I don’t work with a trainer.  I watch, I listen, I ask a lot of questions, and I learn.  I enjoy supporting equine charities. Sometimes I bet a little.

I leave the handicapping and serious race talk and examination to those more knowledgeable than I. What I’d like to share through Around the Oval are some of the myriad observations, stories, histories, events, charities, places, and personalities that make up the variegated landscape of the Thoroughbred racing industry. If you find any—or all—of it interesting, please leave comments. Have any particular interests you’d like to read about? Send word—suggestions are more than welcome! 

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