(Stakes winner Just Might just may learn to read after spending a day with his newest buddy / Photos by Michelle Lovell)

(Mischievousness loves her field trip with her kids)

(Speighter Woman nibbles on her buddy’s hat as the story goes)

Editor’s Note: 

There are two remarkable ladies in our sport, both of whom I truly love.

I value their friendship. I am amazed by their work ethic. I am never surprised by their success, or their remarkable willingness to dare to be brave; to try something new; to chance a big race.

They are amazing people.

There is trainer Michelle Lovell, who is one of the most successful and hard working trainers in the world of Thoroughbred racing.

Never mind that she is a female in a sport dominated by men, and the fact that she has had to overcome so many obstacles that she would make a great stadium jump rider. She has reached remarkable heights and success and has has done it with both diplomacy and professional ethics that run deep.

Never mind that she has never gotten the kind of horses that she deserves to train, and has never gotten the numbers of horses that some of her male counterparts have garnered over the past few years. She has made the absolute most out of the horses that she gets; buys; claims; and ultimately trains and conditions. She has won. She has climbed. She has persevered. She has succeeded.

And, there is Cathy Shircliff, the newest Director of Equine Industry Relations for the legendary and historic Churchill Downs.

Never mind that she, too, is a strong female in a sport that both caves to and cuddles up with men, even when it should not and it does not have to, either. She has made the absolute best of getting new folks to come to our stadiums; to watch our sport; and to enjoy our contests with vigor and vitality. Safe to say, this lady can charm the skin right off a rattler intent on doing bodily harm. And, do it in a Secretariat minute.

Never mind that she is the daughter of a super successful father, James C. Shircliff, the chief investment officer and a portfolio manager at River Road Asset Management in Louisville and an owner of top Thoroughbreds, too. Cathy has made her own “Road” on her own talents, and has plowed new ground and made many new “In-Roads” for Churchill Downs that her name is not the most recognizable thing in her career any more. It is her smiling face that greets with charm and a commitment to success that rivals anyone in this industry.

Both Michelle Lovell and Cathy Shircliff are two of Thoroughbred racing’s best ambassadors. Doesn’t matter when or where. Doesn’t matter to whom or what audience. They can speak the speak. More importantly, they can roll on a stroll and do it with class, professionalism and success.

Recently, these two ladies teamed up with an organization in Louisville named “I’d Rather Be Reading.” And, they developed a great idea.

They decided to team up with IRBR and bring a group of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders out to the backside at Churchill Downs and to the barn of Michelle Lovell and let the youngsters read some of their favorite books to some of the horses.

It not only worked wonders for the kids — who may now become lifelong fans of both Thoroubhbreds and the races, mind you — but also for the horses, who seemed to enjoy the moments with their new friends. In fact, it appeared that the horses were sitting on every word and just waiting for the readers to finish their day-time tasks before turning in for a little nap.

One little girl got to read to Michelle’s horse, Mischievousness, who seemed to enjoy it so much that she leaned out of the stall to nibble on her reader’s dreadlocks. Adorable.

Another little girl pulled a bale of straw right up to the stall door and began to read to Spieghter Woman. It was a web of love. The best love.

One boy read aloud to multiple Stakes winner Just Might, who just ran 2nd at a big race at Keeneland and has won over $1 million in purses. Just Might is the winner of the first Louisville Thoroughbred Society Stakes, and his halter hangs in my office at the Lake, thanks to a grand gesture of love from Michelle.

As he read, the little boy would occasionally turn his book and show the illustrations to the multiple Graded Stakes winner, who was poised — looking at the pages; appearing to be listening to every word.

It was the perfect day.

Kids. Horses. Laughs. And the making of new friends and, perhaps, lifetime fans.

As soon as the book readings were over, Cathy and Michelle let the children interact with their pupils. They fed them peppermints and apple slices. They got to pet the nose and rub the mane.

It was the perfect day.

A day that all tracks should duplicate, and try.

A day that all schools should try to emulate and duplicate.

A day where all parents should try to get their own kids engaged in, involved in, and part of.

It was the perfect day.

The day didn’t surprise me, any. I’ve come to expect great things out of both Cathy and Michelle.

What surprise me is that more racetracks have not tried this before.

No matter what you think about Churchill Downs, you have to give them credit. You have to give both Cathy and Michelle credit. And, you have to give Just Might, Speighter Woman, and Mischievous so much great.

It was a great way to encourage our children to read. It was a great way to encourage our children to appreciate and love horses. It was a great way to connect our community with one of the greatest institutions in the history of  our sport and our city.

It was the perfect day.

Produced by two lovely ladies, who have so much to give to an industry that has so much to learn and take in.

Thanks so.

And, that’s my “Thought of the Day.”