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HRN Original Blog:
Past the Grandstand

Racing's Future: Grace Clark

Racing's Future: Grace Clark
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 racing?

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 went).

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 see otherwise.

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?

Training and 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?

Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Kentucky Downs and Mt. Pleasant Meadows

What is your favorite racetrack? Why?

Churchill Downs! 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?

Saratoga or 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 I can.

What is one thing you aspire to personally accomplish someday in the horse racing industry?

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!)


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Older Comments about Racing's Future: Grace Clark...

Good luck to you Grace! Hope to see you in the winners circle the first Saturday in May! By the time you are training I am sure you will have learned that what "show or pleasure" horse people say about horse training does not apply to race horses. When I was young I heard the same thing about racing two year olds because in other disciplines they wait a bit longer. However, research has shown that horses that run at two are actually MORE sound than those who don't. Training them at a young age actually helps them develop proper bone etc. There are a number of studies out there you can read about.... Good luck to you!
Be sure to check out Grace's artwork through the Facebook link. She is a talented young lady!

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About Mary Cage


Mary with champion Classic Empire

Mary Cage, a 21-year-old avid fan of horse racing, has been around horses all her life, having owned, shown, and judged them for as long as she can remember. She began writing her own horse racing blog, Past the Grandstand, in August 2011 and has since been published in America's Horse, American Racehorse and the Appaloosa Journal, as well as with the websites of The Blood-Horse and The Equine Chronicle. She has also had photos published with Paulick Report and Thoroughbred Daily News. In addition, she works as one of the social media coordinators for the Texas Thoroughbred Association and has interned at WinStar Farm with a marketing focus - with projects involving photography, videography, giving tours, data entry, etc. 

In her personal horse experience, Mary has been around horses all her life and has won several Appaloosa National Champion and Reserve World Champion titles in the show ring. She has also worked as a hotwalker and groom.

Mary has always aspired to have a career with horses and since her love for horse racing began, she has dreamed of pursuing a career in the Thoroughbred racing industry, possibly as a writer/photographer and marketing/communications specialist. She is currently attending the University of North Texas, where she is a journalism major with a concentration in advertising and a minor in marketing. With this blog, she hopes to show readers horse racing through the eyes of a young fan and transport you to some of racing's biggest events through her photos and words.

University of Louisville College of Business Equine Program

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