By Katie Ritz
The TDN has partnered with Amplify Horse Racing to present “The Next Generation,” an ongoing video series featuring young people who were not born into the Thoroughbred business, but are now excelling within the industry.
The only thing six-year-old Samantha Bussanich needed was a trip to Calder Race Course with her grandfather to know that racing was the sport for her. Flash forward less than twenty years later, and she's now an alumna of the University of Kentucky, and has made a name for herself in many sectors of Lexington's Thoroughbred industry from racing, to breeding, to marketing. 'Sam' just wrapped up a three-year stint working for top trainer Mark Casse, and is now preparing to board a plane for Ireland in a few weeks to begin her journey with the Godolphin Flying Start program.
One of Sam's favorite moments in racing was when she joined Casse trainee War of Will (War Front) in the winner's circle for the Preakness S. in 2019. She wanted other young people to experience that same thrill in racing, so she and two friends founded Nexus Racing Club, an organization dedicated to promoting youth participation in racing through partnerships with established owners.
KR: How did you get involved in horse racing?
SB: I got involved in racing when my grandfather took me to Calder racetrack when I was about six years old. Ever since then, I have loved horse racing. And then I got into riding horses, and I went to the University of Kentucky.
What I love about the horse racing industry is the competitive nature of it. I'm a very competitive person. I played basketball growing up in high school, so when that ended, I needed something to replace that in my life, and horse racing is definitely a good replacement.
KR: What is your favorite part about the business?
SB: I have two different favorite parts I would say. One is watching the 2-year-olds develop and seeing them hopefully become great racehorses. And then the second part is the team aspect. I enjoy working with everyone and it makes waking up at four in the morning a lot easier when you have a good barn to go to every morning.
KR: What was it like being a total newcomer in the industry?
SB: I do think there are a lot of challenges to not being born in the sport. I moved from New Jersey to Lexington to go to the University of Kentucky, which not everyone can do. So I do think there needs to be more ways to get involved in the industry. A few friends of mine and I created Nexus Racing Club, and there's also Amplify Horse Racing.
Right now, just trying to get new ways of getting people involved in the sport is a little bit challenging because you do have to work. You have to be outgoing. You have to talk to people and kind of really make your own path for yourself.
KR: Tell us more about Nexus Racing Club.
SB: So two friends and I co-founded Nexus Racing Club in 2017. We thought there needed to be a better way to get new people involved in the industry because the barrier of entry was so high to get into the sport. So Nexus Racing Club partners with owners, and we have leases on racehorses. We also do a lot of networking opportunities to just try and reach out to young people ages 18 to 30, to get them involved in the sport. We think it's really important because it is hard to get into this sport , and [so we want to] teach them the sport in an easy way because sometimes it does get a little complicated.
KR: Can you tell us about your career path and where you are today?
SB: I was a double major in Marketing and Equine Science and Management at the University of Kentucky. I started working for Mark Casse my sophomore year of college. Now I've graduated and I'm still working for him. I also interned for Godolphin and for Keeneland's marketing department. I think it's been really good to have all those different experiences in the office and with the horses working hands on with them.
I got into the Godolphin Flying Start program, which starts in August. After that, I'm not really sure what I'm going to do. I'm going to take it day by day. Luckily, this industry offers so much with so many different aspects of what you can do with your career, so I'm going to learn and see what I want to do.
KR: If there was one thing you could change about the industry, what would it be?
SB: I think something that I would change in the sport is make the start time a little bit later at the track every morning. It is hard to get new people, especially people my age involved when you say, “Oh, you have to get up at four every morning to get to the barn by 4:30.” So even if we pushed it back an hour, I think that would help and get more people out to the track in the mornings to work.
KR: Who is your all-time favorite horse?
SB: My all-time favorite Thoroughbred is War of Will. That's always changing for me, but right now it is War of Will. He's taken me on some of the best experiences of my life. He gave me the best day of my life when he won the Preakness. He's just such a cool horse. He's so smart and easygoing, and we all love him so much.
It's been so rewarding to just watch him develop with all different strings. He's been in Canada, New York, Florida and Kentucky. He's also been at the farm for a while. So everyone that's a part of Team Casse got to be around him. He really is a team Casse kind of horse because everyone has gotten their hands on him. So, he's rewarded everyone in the program.
KR: What are some of your career goals?
SB: My career goal is not only to better the industry, but to make it easier for younger people to get involved. I want to be someone that hopefully a young girl will reach out to and say, “Hey, how do I get another step forward in this industry?” Hopefully I'll be easy to reach, provide them with some good advice and make them want to stay and work in the industry.