By Katie Petrunyak
While 2020 has been a year of hardships for everyone in our industry, many people have said the sport has come together in ways it never has before. As we enter into the holiday season, we spoke with several people who helped make this year a little better. We asked them to reflect on the things that have been particularly difficult to deal with this year; what they have learned because of these struggles and what they hope our industry will take away from this year as we look to 2021.
PRICE BELL, General Manager of Mill Ridge Farm
“I think the balance has been difficult. You go into anything and you're used to performing at a certain level, whether that's being a parent, a husband or a professional. This year you couldn't. So you find ways to compromise and be patient with yourself and with others.
In the beginning, it was really frustrating. I felt like I was a below-average parent, a below-average husband and a below-average professional. So you end up having to work together to find a balance between it all, which in that process, I guess, is humbling, but you become a lot richer. I think I've tried to be more patient and more appreciative of what we have. To just take a second to slow down and really appreciate all that we have and how blessed we are to have it.
If we take a step back to 2019 or 2018 or even before the pandemic, it often has felt like we're a sinking ship. We can't get everyone together. But I feel like the tenor has changed a little bit.
I think in general we have been very appreciative of being able to have racing. It was really sad when we couldn't go to Saratoga, but we were still captured by Tiz the Law (Constitution). We were still blown away by Authentic (Into Mischief) and his rise. Just to be able to have those racing memories kept us going and was a wonderful component of 2020.
I think, also, that I feel more of a community. Obviously we're competitors, but it feels like more of a community than as cut-throat as it may have been in the past. We'll see, long may it last. But I do think we're all in this together. I think that attitude has bubbled up more to the surface than maybe it had previously. Maybe we all feel a sense of responsibility to continue to share and continue to promote. I think we have a greater appreciation for the sport we're able to play and the animals we're able to associate with.
BOYD BROWNING, President and CEO of Fasig-Tipton
I think we all have to keep in mind the love and passion that people have for the horse and for racing. At the end of the day, when we're trying to make decisions, both in the short term and long term, we've got to do what's right for the horse and what's right for racing. We've got to have a little broader perspective.
We all tend to get caught up in our own organizations and our own marketplaces. I think we learned this year that there is a significant interrelationship amongst both companies and markets. If we've learned anything, it's that the mutual cooperation of trying to grow our business and take advantage of opportunities should be heightened.
At the end of the day, the bigger-picture message for all of us should be that we saw the real love that people have for the horse. We had an opportunity to reach some new participants and we got to take advantage of that and promote our sport and our industry–for the emotional thrill of winning a race, for the excitement of being around a good horse, and for the love of the horse and the opportunity to be involved in this majestic sport.
It was a very trying year for virtually everybody, for basically the entire world, and we did see the strength and unity of our industry. I think that we should all look forward to 2021 and beyond with great hope and great enthusiasm, but also recognize that we've got to do better. And if we do, then the industry can continue to grow and it can be an even better world that we live in as members of the Thoroughbred community.
AIDAN BUTLER, COO of The Stronach Group
It's really sad that we lost a bit of a legend, trainer Bob Hess, Sr., and that just kind of brings it home. People are getting sick and people are talking about being asymptomatic, but when you lose one of your own, it doesn't get any worse than that. It really, really brings it home. Hopefully this makes us all a little stronger by all the pulling together we've had to do not just in 2020, but in 2019.
One thing, I think, that has become apparent to me is how interconnected we are with the horsemen. If we are doing well, hopefully they're doing better. If they are doing bad, we certainly are doing bad. But I think that is something I will carry with me for as long as I've got a job in the industry. If you understand how delicate the ecosystem is and how important the horsemen are, you have a better shot of doing okay.
I think that this industry needs to understand to always put themselves in the position of the other people in the industry. If you change your role, who does it affect? I think all the way from the track side to the horse with the trainers, the jockeys, the grooms, the backside, everybody's affected by the littlest moves. We just need to be thoughtful. In this industry, everything we do impacts more than ourselves.
In the past, there's been a lot of battling with sort of every man and woman for themselves. But I don't think that's the future of the game. We've got to pull together and be a little more mindful of the stuff we do. Everything I'm going to try and do in my little part of the world with what responsibilities I have, is to make our tracks be as good as they can possibly be and hopefully people appreciate that. What is it? From little acorns, great oaks are made.
KAREN CHAVEZ, General Manager of the New York Racing Track Chaplaincy
I think the most difficult part of the year was seeing the people in need. It really affected us to see the families suffering. It seemed like the end of the world, you know?
Our mission is to serve the backstretch community, but how can we say no when we see a mom with a stroller who lives across the street from the track and she asks if we can help her? So we kind of expanded our mission a bit and included our neighbors in the community and around the track.
At the end of the day, we are now feeling a sense of accomplishment. We feel like we're being rewarded every day when we hear stories of people who are feeling better or who are getting what they need and now they have peace. That's the best payback we can get to hear the news that everybody's doing so much better because of what we're doing here at the track.
I'm so grateful of the awareness that's been raised through this season. Through social media, people are spreading the word of what's happening here and it's great what we're seeing.
I'm happy to report that all of the horse racing industry has really united during this time. There is better communication than ever before with everything that is being done far as the way we're serving the backstretch community, the workers and their families.
I think it's important that we don't forget the things we go through that make us stronger, make us wiser, and that we utilize every opportunity not for our personal gain, but to be able to gain resources that will help other people. I am a firm believer that when we invest in the community, more blessings will come and more resources will come. So then we can continue to serve as much as we can with what we have, knowing that people will hear of what we're doing and more people would want to help.