Lindsey Taylor became infatuated with horses as a young girl and fell in love with racing at age 12. The Georgia native and recent Keeneland intern shares the details of her journey as a racing fan.
I am not sure if I became a fan of horse racing by coincidence or fate. I didn't grow up with horses, nor did I grow up in a place anywhere near areas that had horse racing. At the time I lived in Alpharetta, Ga., a suburb north of Atlanta, and somehow I inherited the “gene,” the “horse gene” as my mother likes to call it.
I cannot exactly pinpoint when I became interested in horses, maybe it was when my childhood best friend started taking riding lessons. All I knew was that it was like a switch had been flipped and all I wanted to do was ride horses. I began begging my mother to let me take horseback riding lessons, which was met with some resistance but eventually she signed me up for one riding lesson a week. One lesson a week became two, and two lessons turned into riding at local horse shows. I loved riding horses but as I became older, horseback riding turned into more of a hobby to all the other sports that I played (softball, basketball, and track) growing up. My mother, I’m sure, was relieved that my expensive hobby was slowly taking a back seat to my busy school and sports schedules.
One Saturday afternoon in June 2002, something was different, however. My dad was in the living room watching some sporting event on television, which wasn't unusual, so I didn’t take notice to what he was watching. My dad knew I loved horses and called me over to the couch to watch it with him. He said to me, "Lindsey! Come over here. You need to watch this. It is important." He was watching coverage of the Belmont Stakes, a race for Thoroughbred racehorses. He explained to me that it was the last leg of a three-race series called the Triple Crown that was made up of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. That year, a horse named War Emblem had won the first two legs of the series and was aiming to win this race, the last race of the series to become horse racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner. I watched as War Emblem broke poorly. I remember him making a run at the lead around the final turn into the home stretch but his bid for the lead was short-lived and he faded badly. The impossible longshot Sarava shocked the field that day at 70-1. War Emblem didn’t hit the board. I wouldn't say that that was the time I became a fan of horse racing but that was my first memory, and I remember it clearly.
It was two years later in 2004 that I remember falling deeply in love with a horse named Smarty Jones, and my passion for the sport of horse racing began. I remember watching Smarty Jones win the Kentucky Derby and easily win the Preakness. There was no doubt in my mind that this would be the first horse to finally win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. My dad and I again tuned in to watch the Belmont stakes that year. We were sure that Smarty was going to make history. As we watched the race Smarty had my hopes high, turning into the stretch all alone. I had never been more excited, but as Smarty was nearing deep stretch a horse named Birdstone loomed closer and closer and was beginning to cut away at Smarty's lead. It was evident that Smarty was tiring and Birdstone was flying, unleashing his relentless run. I screamed and cheered along with the Belmont crowd that was thousands of miles away urging, begging Smarty to run faster. I watched in agony as Birdstone passed Smarty in the final strides of race. In the end, Birdstone had Smarty’s number and history would have to wait for another day. I cried for hours after the race.
If you ask most girls who their first heartbreak was they would give you a name of a boy; I, however; would not. If you asked me who my first heartbreak was I would tell you that I was 12 years old and Smarty Jones was the first to break my heart.
That year was the year I really began following the sport. At 12 years old I would come home from school and instead of turning on cartoons, I would turn on TVG and watch horse racing and horse racing analysis provided by the TVG newscasters. I learned how to handicap and became familiar with all the big racing names and much more. I was hooked. My dad took notice and supported my love for the sport.
Throughout my high school and college years my dad and I began traveling the country together going to various racetracks to watch big stakes races. We went to races such as the Arlington Million, Belmont Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup. We even went to Hot Springs, Ark., to watch Zenyatta, who had become an icon to me, win the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park. It was one of the best days of my life.
After I graduated from college, I moved to Kentucky to follow my passion for Thoroughbred horse racing. When I first moved, I took part in a program called the Kentucky Equine Management Internship. Through this internship I was placed at WinStar Farm for the 2016 breeding season. There, I helped foal out more than 170 Thoroughbred mares. After this internship, I accepted a job at Denali Stud as a yearling groom and sales show person, where I worked until I attained an internship with Keeneland, where I am currently the sales and racing intern. This internship has been such a great opportunity where I am able to encounter Thoroughbred racing at its highest level almost on a daily basis.
Who would have thought that falling for a horse named Smarty Jones would lead to my life’s passion? In all seriousness, my horse racing fandom has led me to pursue a career within the horse racing industry and, although I’m still unsure exactly where it’s taking me, I’m definitely enjoying the ride.
Editor's note: This story was originally published in 2017.