Creating the Next Generation of Fans at Oaklawn Park

The Life

Sara and her son at Oaklawn Park. (Photos by Sara Dacus)

When we learned we were expecting a son, I chose to name him after my favorite person in the world. Casey Lynn Dacus, Jr. was born—we call him Case—and we brought him home to his horse racing themed nursery.

“Do you want him to be a jockey?” Casey asked.

“No,” I answered. “I want him to be exactly who he wants to be.”

And I meant it. I think.

If he happens to like golf (Casey’s other hobby) and horse racing, we will be pleased. If he likes theater and painting, we will happily support him and learn all about these worlds. But sometimes I dream of senior pictures in front of the finish line. Of teaching Case to read the program and The Daily Racing Form. Of occasionally wagering together as soon as he is of age until I am a widow going to the track every day. I want to share my passion with my son because I love him.

Casey and I had several discussions concerning the right time to take Case to Oaklawn, our home track. Each year, Oaklawn opens the infield, weather permitting, the final five Saturdays of the meet. The track creates a festive environment with lots of activities for kids in the park within the park. I wanted to introduce our 3-year-old to live racing on one of these Saturdays.

CASEY AND CASE

I didn’t know how much he would understand. Before we left the house, he was jumping up and down, yelling, “See the horsies!” but he also kept asking us for a “dinner rat.” Sometimes it’s difficult to know what is going on in his toddler mind.

I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful spring day. The blooming dogwoods and redbuds stood out in the green Oaklawn infield. We went there first. The bounce houses and the petting zoo captivated Case. I decided Case would probably make a mess with the face painting, so we skipped it. He was also uninterested in the balloon man. Casey and I enjoyed bands there and at various places throughout the grounds. The infield was a gold mine of fun.

I wanted Case to see more of the track. We went to see the horses in the paddock. We sat and ate on the apron. I took him around to meet some of my favorite track friends.

I will admit: I had slightly romanticized Case’s first trip to the track. In reality, he sat in the cardboard boat that held his fries and ketchup. He ran away from us several times. He licked the floor of my friend’s box while salvaging dropped popcorn. He was impervious to the concept of the (very short) lines for the infield activities. At one point, he stood screaming as we fought to make him wait his turn. Of course, two friends happened to walk by and witness this display.

THE PETTING ZOO WAS A HIT

“This isn’t exactly how I envisioned this day,” I said to Casey.

“This is exactly how I thought it would go,” he answered.

The outing was not completely easy, but was it worth it? Absolutely.

The day produced a moment I will forever hold in my heart. For a one-mile race, I took Case near the pole that provides the start and finish line for this distance. I sat him down on the four-foot wall that separates the apron from the track and put my arms around him. We had front row seats for the post parade and the start and finish of the race. We both watched, wide-eyed, as the horses thundered by and created flying dirt.

We didn’t take our eyes off the horses until the last one was out of sight. I lifted Case off the wall. He fought me to stay on it. When I was finally able to peel him from his perch, he tried to scale the wall on his own to regain his vantage point. This time, I was actually pleased with the struggle. And I hoped that a horse racing fan was born. 

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