Race of the Week 2017

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Past the Grandstand

Racing's Future: Natalie Rietkerk

Natalie Rietkerk 615 X 400
Photo: Claudia Ruiz

“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 Natalie Rietkerk

Natalie Rietkerk, a 25-year-old equine enthusiast living in Orange County, California, gained her love for horse racing as the great-granddaughter of a Thoroughbred trainer and breeder. An equestrian for nearly 20 years and a horse owner since age 12, Natalie’s riding career began with dressage before she became involved with hunter-jumpers – with a special interest in developing young horses. She has a 5-year-old Belgian Sport Horse gelding named Otto whom she has had since he was a yearling and hopes to show him in hunter derbies in the near future. Natalie has been able to combine her love of equestrian sports and horse racing as the Project Manager for the California Retirement Management Account (CARMA) – a nonprofit which funds more than 20 Thoroughbred aftercare organizations and helps retired racehorses find successful second careers. She also serves as Event Manager for the Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show, which was specifically created to give off-track-Thoroughbreds and their owners a place to showcase their skills in jumping, dressage, western and horsemanship classes.

How did you become interested in horse racing?

My family has been involved with horse racing since the 1930s but really my mom’s passion for racehorses fueled me most of all. She grew up having clippings of horse racing news on her walls and idolizing Secretariat. So, for as long as I can remember, watching the Triple Crown races has always been an event in my house.

What do you love about horse racing?

Obviously the horses – and being around people who share a passion for them.

What career are you pursuing in the horse racing industry?

Thoroughbred aftercare and public relations

Why have you chosen to pursue that career?

My love of racing stems from my passion for horses. They are incredible animals and deserve to be safely retired and cared for when their time at the track is over. It is my job to help racehorse owners and trainers know what retirement resources are available for the horses.  I want to help off-track-Thoroughbreds regain popularity as pets and sport horses; more of them will have homes when they retire from racing.

How are you currently pursuing that career?

I started working for CARMA and the Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show in May 2016. They are great organizations to promote off-track-Thoroughbreds and we are working tirelessly to expand our reach. It’s honestly a dream job and extremely rewarding.

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

It sounds a little cliché to say I admire the founder of CARMA but I have a lot of respect for Madeline Auerbach. She is tenacious as an owner and breeder and she always does what is right by her horses.

Many come to mind from syndicate outfits like Little Red Feather, owners like Fox Hill Farm and trainers like Bob Baffert who give back to the horses.

I also admire young women in the industry who are helping to shape the future of the sport.

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

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not great at handicapping. I can read the form and understand betting on a very basic level but that’s about it. Ask me about any exotics and I’m out.

I’m also really interested in learning more about the breeding and sales aspect of the sport.

What racetracks have you been to?

Santa Anita Park, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Churchill Downs, Keeneland and Belmont Park

What is your favorite racetrack? Why?

Santa Anita Park is easily my favorite. It feels like home to me.

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

I’d love to go to Saratoga. Everyone raves about it and I’m curious to see what all the hype is about!

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

Witnessing American Pharoah capture the Triple Crown and then meeting him in person at Santa Anita is my number one. Going to the 2016 Kentucky Derby and watching the race from the track is definitely a highlight of my involvement with horse racing. I was literally sitting on the dirt under the railing at the first turn all glassy-eyed. Having the field charging towards me is something I’ll never be able to fully explain.

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

American Pharoah is hands down my favorite. Obviously he is a tremendous athlete but I really love his personality and temperament. My other favorites are: California Chrome, Dortmund, Barbaro, Cigar, Exaggerator, Songbird, Beholder and Stellar Wind. A less famous horse who captured my heart is Cinematic Cat. He was sent to Washington and claimed but he’ll always be special to me.

Before my time – Secretariat and Seabiscuit.

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

A larger expansion of industry-funded aftercare programs and a greater importance placed on the commitment of owning a racehorse after its career has ended.

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

In conversations with my equestrian friends, I often find they have a negative view of horse racing due to concerns with injuries and abuse.  For people not already connected to horses, I think it’s a lack of exposure that perhaps increased advertising could help. Who doesn’t enjoy a reason to get dressed up and go out with friends?

What do you think is the most common misconception about horse racing?

That it’s cruel to the horses and abuse is rampant – when in reality most of the horses are treated well. I feel showing more of the behind the scenes aspect of the sport would go a long way.

Another misconception is that in order to own a racehorse you have to be extremely wealthy. Promoting racing syndicates could also help more people get involved.

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

I’d start by taking them to a race at Santa Anita or Del Mar and explaining the sport. Showing them the paddock, the saddling barn and pointing out the major players could help them perhaps come back on their own.

How are you currently contributing to the horse racing industry?

I am currently the project manager at CARMA and the event manager for the Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show. Prior to that, I was the managing editor at Everythingeq.com and its magazine publication Thoroughbred Today, which seeks to bridge the gap between the equestrian world and horse racing.

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

I would like to make sure there is a wonderful home for every retired racehorse.


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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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