Why Own a Racehorse: Dreams Are Worth Chasing, Especially When You Catch Them

(Miss Jacqueline headed to the “test barn” after winning on Thursday / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

Editor’s Note: We just got home to our house in the suburbs of Louisville. It is 8:15 p.m. About 5 hours after our filly, Miss Jacqueline, got her first race of her life. And, got her first win of her life. We have a story to tell, and we will tell it. But it will have to wait for another day. Another time. Tonight, I’m exhausted as if I was the one asked to run 6 furlongs over a muddy racetrack. But not too tired to relive a little of today’s magic. After all, it was a magical day for us.

Here you go…a teaser…

When we decided to take a risk and run our 2-year-old filly on Thursday at Churchill Downs, we did so with a bit of fear and trepidation. We knew that Miss Jacqueline was ready for her first race. We knew that she was doing well. We knew that it was time to find out what we had, and it was time for her to find our what this racing sport is all about.

But that’s about all we knew. Or thought we knew.

Yet, there was far more questions than answers, too.

We didn’t know that the field for a Maiden-Claiming $15,000 race would over-fill and that 12 horses would make the starting gate look like me trying to squeeze into a pair of my trousers from a couple of years ago. Ouch.

We didn’t know that it would rain buckets for two days, and turn Churchill Downs into Churchill Drowns. And, we didn’t know how our filly, who had never even trained over a sloppy racetrack, would or could handle the racing surface.

We didn’t know that the temps would drop 30 degrees in about 3 hours and turn the hottest month of October in Kentucky history into snow flakes on Halloween. And, we didn’t know how our filly would or could adjust to the temp swing.

We didn’t know that winds would kick up and blow like the wicked witch on the Wizard of Oz.

And, we didn’t know if anyone would try to claim her.

So, when we strolled into the paddock and looked for our little gal, we walked quickly and nervously. We walked quietly, and nervously. We walked. And, we did not talk. Did I mention that we were nervous?

“What’s up,” said our trainer, Stephen Lyster. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this quiet.”

I grunted. “Just a little nervous,” I said. “I just want her to do well. I really do.”

Just a few minutes later, we made up for the somber Halloween. Just a few minutes later, we sounded like a 6-year-old who just went through his first Haunted House.

It may not have been a Breeders’ Cup race. But that didn’t dampen our spirits. Not even a little bit. It was our Breeders’ Cup race. It was our Breeders’ Cup moment.

Miss Jacqueline, our 2YO daughter of Jack Milton and a filly that we bred and raised some long time ago, gassed it from the #12 post position. She grabbed the lead coming out of the turn, despite motoring the first quarter in :21& change. And, she motored home, with jockey Julien Leparoux on her back, in front by some 51/4 lengths.

My wife Leigh Ann cheered like she did when she was a teenager at Graves County High School. The only thing missing was a standing back flip, and her pom poms.

My friend, Greg Schell, was jumping. On two artificial knees that were installed just a few months ago. Ronda Schell was yelling. And, it wasn’t even at Greg.

My twitter friends, Tim and Mark, who travelled down from Indy just for the races, were trying to cheer and take photos at the same time. A tough assignment.

Elizabeth Rosenberg, who runs a horse aftercare program in Shelbyville, was dancing a jig.

As soon as Miss Jacqueline and Julien crossed the finish line, Stephen turned to me with a smile as big as all Churchill Downs. Just as he had hit a game-winning home run — which he had done for me when he was a mere teenager and I was his manager — so many years ago. And, he said:

“Congratulations. I am so happy for you.”

I hugged that kid back, like it was nobody’s business, and I told him that I loved him. Which I do.

And, I have to be honest with you, I ducked away. Just for a moment in time. Just in the nick of time.

Those were not tears, mind you. The damn rain and snow flakes were hitting me right in the face.

I will reveal more tomorrow in a deeper dive. But for now, just know that I had one of the most amazing days of my life.

My filly won. My friends won. My family won.

And, as I watched them all hug and squeeze and scream and dance and slap hands, I knew right then and there that I had won so much more than a race, too.

And, that is exactly why I own a racehorse.

That is exactly why I love the sport. So, so, so much.

That is why I love this filly so, so, so very much.

(Photos by Holly M. Smith)

(Photos From Friends and Family)

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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