• Miss Sunset (3-1) grinds out the win over Chalon in the Grade 2 Raven Run Stakes.Posted 1 day ago
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  • Rubilinda (6-5) finds the wire just in time to take the Pebbles Stakes.Posted 8 days ago
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  • Flameaway (5-1) wins a three-horse photo finish in the Dixiana Bourbon (G3) at a wet Keeneland.Posted 14 days ago
  • War Flag (9-1) wins the stretch battle in Belmont's Flower Bowl (G1).Posted 14 days ago
Breeders' Cup 2017

HRN Original Blog:
Past the Grandstand

Racing's Future: Kayla Zielke

Kayla Zielke
Photo: Kara Zielke


“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 Kayla Zielke

Kayla Zielke, a 15-year-old from Pincher Creek, Alberta, Canada has loved horses all her life but became interested in racing about eight years ago. In addition to barrel racing, Kayla enjoys training colts as well. She has owned three off-track-thoroughbreds, two of which she got at a body condition score of 1 and 2 but nursed back to health and retrained.

How did you become interested in horse racing?

Barbaro started it all. I was eight years old when I watched him triumph in the Kentucky Derby. Just like everyone else, I was so excited to watch the Preakness, only to see him break down. I followed him as much as I could: buying any magazine that even mentioned his name in it, reading every article, watching every news broadcast and anything I could find on the Internet to keep up with his story. I remember the day that I brought home the latest magazine that had a Barbaro feature. I sat there reading the news of his euthanasia, and my jaw slowly dropped. I was in tears but then I realized that this tragedy had brought something new into my life. I started reading and watching any and everything that had to do with racing. Equibase, Equineline, researching horse after horse. I was just fascinated by the history and legacies of the Thoroughbreds.

What do you love about horse racing?

I love everything to do with racing. The adrenaline rush of watching them come into the turn for home just gives me the chills. The stories of the horses and seeing where their pedigrees lead to is just so interesting to me. The threat of danger for the horse and jockey just adds a whole extra element as well. The best part is when you research and pick the horse that just feels right and watch them romp. I have picked the Kentucky Derby winner for the past four years just because it’s the Derby and you just can’t stop researching everything.

What aspects of horse racing do you wish you knew more about?

I would love to know more of the behind the scenes stuff on the shed row. What their daily routines look like, what they’re fed, as well as what happens behind the scenes on the farms. Foaling routines and just what they do daily.

What racetracks have you been to?

Living in Alberta, there is a very limited amount of tracks. The closest to me is about a one hour drive away and it is tiny. They don’t even use personalized silks. It is little but it does the job. I would love to go to way more but for now I can watch as many races as I please on TVG (which usually takes up my weekend. Who has time for homework? I have racing to watch!)

What is your favorite racetrack? Why?

Keeneland without a doubt. I just love how fancy and pristine everything is. Just the feel of watching the Keeneland meet holds something different and special. The paddock is gorgeous; the entire track is gorgeous.

Of the racetracks you have not been to, which one do you want to visit most?

Keeneland, then Churchill Downs.

What are your favorite moments in your “horse racing life” thus far?

My favourite moment is without a doubt Zenyatta winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2009. The stretch call pounds through my head every time I see a picture of her. “This is unbelievable! Zenyatta! What a performance, one we’ll never forget!”

Who are your favorite racehorses of your lifetime? Before your lifetime?

Zenyatta is an obvious one. Animal Kingdom, Wise Dan, Frankel, Bullet Train, the list goes on and on. Before my lifetime Ruffian, Citation, Native Diver, Whirlaway, Swaps, Easy Goer, Sunday Silence, Cigar… once again it goes on and on.

If you could change something about the industry, what would you change?

I would try to convince people to breed more bone into their foals. The Thoroughbred breed has turned into a fine china, twig-legged breed. They break down far too often and have too many injuries. Colts have these small bones and get fractures, are sent off to stud to breed this frailty back into the lines, making the next generation even worse. The other thing is to not start training until they’re four years old so they develop further, but we all know that won’t happen.

What do you think is preventing horse racing from being a more popular sport?

The controversy and breakdowns. This PETA stuff definitely isn’t helping but as soon as someone hears the word ‘breakdown’, they freak out. Yes, they are sad, but they happen. They are bound to happen in any sport. The stereotypes, as well; everyone thinks that the horses are beaten and abused and stuck in a stall all day and treated so terribly. People need to learn the truth. I try to stand up for the industry but I just get screamed at and criticized by thirty different people.

How would you convince someone who is not an avid follower of horse racing to begin following the sport?

Easy enough, take them to the track. I took my friends to the track for the first time, taught them the ropes and on the way home they asked if we could come back next weekend. I did take them on Derby weekend, which is one reason they got so hooked.

What career do you plan to pursue in the horse racing industry?

I have a life dream to become a stallion manager at a farm in Kentucky. Lane’s End is the real dream but anywhere would be amazing. I already have my college plans to take an Equine Science Breeding and Reproduction course. One of the graduates is the stallion manager at Darby Dan Farm with Shackleford. I am willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill this dream to work with these amazing horses.

How are you currently contributing to the horse racing industry?

We have bought and re-trained four OTTBs now into pleasure riding, barrel racing, and just all-around horses. People think that Thoroughbreds are so high strung and dangerous but get them in a pasture and off their track feed and they’ll become giant puppy dogs. Our OTTBs are the sweetest horses we have owned.

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

Help foal out a mare and watch the colt grow into a Kentucky Derby winner or Breeders' Cup winner.


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Older Comments about Racing's Future: Kayla Zielke...

Good Luck, by the way Alberta looks just like where I grew up in Kansas. Looks like good horse country.
Good luck, might I suggest a different farm? Lane's End, while no doubt a phenomenal farm, is far better managing horses than people.
Your goal (answer to the last question) made me smile, Kayla. Best of luck to you!
Best of luck to you, Kayla!

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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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