Race of the Week 2017

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Past the Grandstand

Racing's Future: Margaret Gaston

Maggy Gaston
Photo: Sarah Gaston

“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 Margaret Gaston

Eighteen-year-old Margaret Gaston was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. A fan of horse racing since she was in middle school, Margaret showed up four years ago wanting to work in Allen Milligan’s barn. There, she started out as a hot walker but, in her words, “he kind of got stuck with an adopted daughter.” She currently owns two Thoroughbreds and a Quarter Horse, and plans on attending Oklahoma State University. Be sure to follow her popular horse racing photography account on Instagram, @racehorsesofinstagram.

How did you become interested in horse racing?

I’ve always enjoyed the races, but I didn’t really know much about it. My grandparents had a box and I’d get to bring friends and watch the races. My interest sparked as a freshman in high school. A year earlier I was given a 20-year-old thoroughbred named Stately Dinner. His personality and work ethic sucked me into the breed. On a weekend trip to the races my aunt took me to Allen Milligan’s barn. I mentioned that I wanted another ex-racehorse, and I wanted to work on the backside. I showed up the next weekend to start hot walking and was greeted with “Hey, want this horse?” I took him home and returned every weekend for the rest of the meet. They’ve been stuck with me since January 2011; I made myself part of the family.

What do you love about horse racing?

I love the horses; they come first. I love the people I’ve met and the connections I’ve made. When I say my “friends” at the track, the majority is old enough to be my parents or even grandparents, but I love them all so much and usually prefer them over my hometown school friends. I love the anxiety of the start and the adrenaline of the stretch. I love the connections made with the horses and the pride you feel when they run, even if they don’t win. The heart of a Thoroughbred is one of my favorite things in the world. 

Who are some of the people you admire in the industry and why?

Oh wow, so many people I wish I could mention. Scooter Dickey was the one to open my eyes to the backside. I stayed with his family for the 2007 Kentucky Derby. He let me tag along in the mornings and made the backside a magical place for my 11-year old-eyes. I have been a fan of Flat Out since his Oaklawn days and I will argue until I die: Scooter made that horse. Allen Milligan took me under his wing, he adopted me into Milligan Racing and puts up with my shenanigans every weekend. To me, he’s an honest horseman and great trainer and I’ve enjoyed the last four years working for him and can’t express my appreciation for everything he’s done for me. Not naming names, but I really admire our vets because they help me every chance they get to learn something and they save horses and that’s just awesome. I also want to give credit to the grooms and hotwalkers, who don’t get as much recognition, but without them a stable doesn’t run. Go backsiders!

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

I wish I knew more about the anatomy of the horse. One of my biggest curiosities is what goes on inside. I want to know what the medicines affect and how everything works. It just really fascinates me: the bones and muscles and such.

How often do you go to the races?

During the Oaklawn meet I go every weekend. However, I’ve been major slacking this year because senior year is crazy. During the summer I take a month and travel with Allen to his summer tracks and that’s always fun.

What racetracks have you been to?

Oaklawn Park, Churchill Downs, Prairie Meadows, Horseman’s Park, Lone Star Park, Louisiana Downs, Fairgrounds, Remington Park

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

Probably my biggest moment was right before the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2013. Gary Stevens was in a short clip on NBC Sports talking about Oxbow, and his recent return to racing. I heard him mention that after the Kentucky Derby, there was this great picture he saw on Twitter of him pulling up in the Derby and I thought “Oh my gosh, what if…” Then it showed the picture I took of Gary on Oxbow and Mike Smith on Palace Malice and my caption was “2 legends plotting their revenge in the next 2 legs of the Triple Crown” and I literally flew backwards in my chair and screamed bloody murder. It was awesome.

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

My favorite famous horse is by far Barbaro. I am head over heels; he is perfection. But during my years I have grown fond of a few claimers and I can’t let them go unmentioned: Allensworth, Sunset Stroll, Pack Your PJs, Valrico, and Path Resident.  Before my lifetime? John Henry; he could do anything.

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

I think questions like this are hard because, while there are things that need to be changed, I don’t believe it will happen. I would like to see horses not started so young and drugs not used as frequently as they are. Just the typical…

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

Need I mention PETA’s latest attack on Steve Asmussen? It’s things like that turn people away. I wish they understood that not everyone in the business is bad, though there definitely are people who ruin it for the rest of the honest trainers. Someone sees one horse come off the track in bad shape and they assume that they all end up like that. Someone hears of an incidence of drugging and suddenly all racehorses are drugged. Someone sees one crazy Thoroughbred flip and they deem all Thoroughbreds nutcases. It’s all assumptions and stereotypes. While I agree there are bad people in the industry, it’s really not a bad place.

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

Take them to morning training; that’s the fun part. Of course you get the occasional exercise rider who rides by cussing their horse. I love when the first set goes out and it’s cool and sometimes you can’t see them coming, but you can hear them breathing. I think watching a horse gallop by, having a good time is an easy way to get someone hooked. But, you either have it or you don’t; not everyone can appreciate the sport.

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

I’m planning on becoming a vet so we’ll see how that works! I would like to be a track vet, but if I ever get tired of moving around, I want to settle somewhere and work on horses.

How are you currently contributing to the horse racing industry?

I consider myself the unofficial “Wal-Mart greeter” of Oaklawn. I stand on the rail taking pictures and saying “Good morning” to everyone that rides by. I’m supposed to be a hot walker but taking pictures is more fun.

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

I just really want to be a vet. A personal accomplishment would be to save a horse’s life; I don’t think anything could be more rewarding. At some point, I would really like to have a few horses to rehab and rehome; that’s been a goal of mine since I started my OTTB, Bull. It’s all about the horses; I just love them.


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Older Comments about Racing's Future: Margaret Gaston...

it was a financially lucrative maneuver in those days to take in marginally qualfied students who qualfiied as ethnic minorities. These poor people were duped and very few graduated. We had three in my class and only one lasted to the end of his 2nd year. MOney grubbers are all over.
or more laughable YOU get their trick question correct and they get pssied. I never will understand this selection process. One summer when I was a mover, we moved a fellow who had been the head of the selections committee at the Stanford Medical School. Anxious for some tips, on my break I asked him why he was giving up such an important job to go back to teaching and he encapsulated all that I learned later aabout the selection process. "I could not look into all those qualfied students faces and have to tell them NO, while MANY I KNEW were getting in as legacies or via favors repaid."
been through many of these predetermined "interviews" when they get slap happy for their pals (whom they have already chosen for the limited number of spots, while you discover you have just wasted a sizable amount of money to fly to that rigged interview.
One aspect of admission to a school of veterinary medicine is a personal interview in a format known as the MMI. The interview occurs after the transcripts , test scores, etc., have been reviewed and considered acceptable. The interview is to assess personal attributes and communication skills and ability to work as part of a team. Behaviors such as empathy, honesty, reliability are evaluated. I suspect the personal interview is the point at which some applicants are subsequently rejected.
things change: Mr. Getz claims that prospective students will stop seeing veterinary medicine as a good career investment due to the mismatch between the cost of earning a DVM degree and income generated in practice. My position is that this is already happening and I feel that veterinary medicine is not attracting students who will maintain the standards of veterinary medicine that we have become accustomed to.With the quality of applicants declining it should be easier for marginal candidates to get into vet school. http://www.breedfreak.com/2012/03/we-question-the-commonly-held-belief-that-it-is-harder-to-get-into-veterinary-school-than-medical-school/
It is not correct that, to quote you, "IF you sre living in a state WITH a vet school, it is their policy to ONLY allow you to apply to that state's school."
I have met students who walked out the door over 150K in debt...HINT they will never be able to cover that debt.
with simply outragous tutions I realize now that acceptance is for the fat cats who can document PRE-ADMISSION the ability to cover the fees. No surpise: the rich don't want anyone else to have educational opportunity
application numbers that is
IF you are already in the field, the door swings WIDE open, not for the rest of the world however...Nepotism is alive and well
Since when do spaces open to the extent of the admissions numbers?
t_v, What you are saying about restrictions on admission to schools of veterinary medicine is simply not correct. jenna.heusi has advised you of this as well if I remember correctly. It is a fact that our family's general small animal vet was a resident of Sacramento, California, all his life, yet was accepted to vet school in Oklahoma (although California has a vet school at Cal-Davis and maybe others); he completed his veterinary degree in Oklahoma, is a member of a national scientific honor society, and practices in the D/FW metroplex. We have known him for ~28 years. Conversely, the school of veterinary medicine at the University of California at Davis accepts qualified applicants from other states with schools of vet medicine. Cal-Davis has accepted applicants from the following states, all of which have their own vet med institutions: Texas, Colorado, New York, Massachusetts, Arizona, etc. http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/students/dvm_program/admissions/ClassOf2017Statistics.cfm
IF however, you live out west in a state without a vet school you can apply to several slots left open for WICHE (Western Interstate Comission on Higher Education)..http://www.wiche.edu/
Friend in Texas, who had a very good but not perfect GPA, lost out to a connected dummy witha straigh "C" average, who's Dad was on the selection commitee. But that is in the corrupt state of Texas but is not atypical of other tales I heard.
IF you are living in a state WITH a vet school, it is their policy to ONLY allow you to apply to that state's school. Many I know went to Europe or Asia to start and then transfered back
vet schools are VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE to get into without a fix. Take it from lots of experience with myself and about 10 others.
I hope you do become a vet Margaret, you certainly have the background and enthusiasm for the challenge, Good luck to you!
Flat Out :)
In regard to Flat Out: I'll proudly shout next to you, any day. :)
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About Mary Cage


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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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