Alexis Garske works in the media and press relations department at Santa Anita Park. She also is one of the founding members of the #IAmHorseRacing campaign. Garske took some time to explain the origin of this new initiative and how it became a reality.
Can you explain the idea behind #IAMHorseRacing?
The main objective was to create a platform to share the stories that exist in and around racing. We certainly didn’t reinvent the wheel. Stories are being told every day by very talented people within the business providing thoughtful features and interviews, but it’s hard to get the traction those so often deserve.
Our idea was to create snapshots of these people’s story using a medium that was easily digestible, incredibly visual, and had the raw potential to go viral. Our main focus is the extensive care for these horses, the passion for the sport, and the many jobs that make up this industry.
We’re a community of hard-working, resilient men and women who are passionate about what they do. How many people outside of racing can say they get out of bed at 3:30 a.m. every morning to go to work no matter the day, the weather, or the sacrifice it can sometimes entail? Many do this for decades and wouldn’t have it any other way.
We come from all walks of life and each have a story to tell about what brought us here. There’s nothing more empowering than sharing your truth in a way that people can relate to, in one way or another. It invites compassion and shows our humanity. And, just maybe that will encourage a greater curiosity and willingness to learn.
Where did the idea from the campaign come from and who started it?
Timing has played a big part. As an industry, we’re facing some serious challenges and we’ve taken some pretty hard knocks overall. And individually, we weren’t feeling of service in the greater scheme of things.
Jill Baffert reached out to a group of us that work in and around Southern California racing a little over a week ago. She asked us to meet to throw around some ideas. We’re all friends so the invitation wasn’t completely unusual, and we know the work she’s done for the industry behind the scenes. Showing up was the first step and from there, it was all business.
It snowballed quickly, in the best possible way, and by lunchtime we had a plan that was rolling along. We were sitting at the table working it out, contacting friends and colleagues in real time, and building the idea into actual steps. Come last Sunday, we launched. Seven days, on the nose.
The IAHR team consists of Jill Baffert, Christina Blacker (TVG), Britney Eurton (TVG), Anna James (TVG), Molly McGill and her Grand Slam Social team, and Alexis Garske (Santa Anita Park.)
What kinds of stories would you like for the general public to see, hear and read through #IAmHorseRacing?
In terms of reaching the general public, our hope is to expand the definition of what this industry is, which is not any one thing. For us, that specifically involves making the effort to provide easy introductions.
Countless hands touch a horse from the second they’re born throughout their entire life. Each pair of hands is directly connected to a job that is essential and often overlooked. There are legions of ancillary jobs equally as instrumental as well. From the tellers, tractor drivers, and bartenders to the stable guards that have been at the track most of their lives. From the feed company to the farriers. From the valets, outriders, bloodstock agents, breeders, and farms, to the people doing their accounting. From the parking attendants to the transportation companies. ... The list is endless. With each one comes a story of how they started in racing and their love for the horse, and that’s where ‘I am Horse Racing’ wants to live.
These individuals ensure horses’ daily quality of life, general temperament, and overall health. That’s vital, that’s true, and that’s certainly not always the story being told. [Racehorses are] fed top of the line feed, given the best veterinary care money can buy, bathed, brushed, and pampered. They’re looked after by a team of people every day and, most importantly, they are loved.
Who are some the people who have already been highlighted in the campaign?
Our first feature was on Kelsey Faucon, who rides for trainer Phil D’Amato. Her husband also rides for D’Amato, so to say families are often involved in this business is an understatement.
We then launched owner Billy Koch’s video, followed by young trainer Anna Meah and then assistant trainer Carlos Santamaria. Carlos’s filming really moved us because he was genuinely so emotional during his shoot. We didn’t want to edit it down for time because there was so much fantastic footage. He’s going through daily dialysis but loves his horses and his job so much that he’s pressed on, not knowing how to spend a day away. And, that’s in spite of his boss, Simon Callaghan, pleading with him to take some time for himself.
We’ve recently launched trainer David Hofmans as well. He grew up at Santa Anita so that was a lot of fun to hear him sharing his memories that involved racing and the track from as far back as he could remember.
What can people expect to see in the coming weeks and months from #IAmHorseRacing?
More of the same! I know that sounds a bit general but it’s true. We’re not planning on stopping anytime soon. This was rolled out with a long-term plan in mind and we’re dedicated to that goal. That means more of the faces you know and love.
We’re working on next steps, which is exciting and the positive feedback is certainly inspirational. It’s been a labor of love, but knowing it matters to our friends and colleagues throughout the industry has been rewarding in itself. That tells us there’s a desire for it and, if that’s true, maybe this can extend past our own walls.
What’s the ultimate goal of the campaign?
The ultimate goal is to go beyond the current and only social and email campaign, and evolve into something that lives and breathes over time. This is all passion right now, but this will grow into a lasting relationship.
Hopefully, it will mature into a great foundation for the industry at large to use and pull from. There are fantastic organizations and initiatives throughout racing, all doing great things. To us, those are more stories to be told and there’s always room for more of the same. The opportunity is there for inclusion, cross promotion, and huge growth across all platforms.
What can people do to participate and why should they participate?
Anyone can participate using the hashtag #IAmHorseRacing. Share a quick video, a picture, or even just a quick story and tag our accounts. Re-tweet, like us, and subscribe on YouTube.
People sharing on their own was always our hope and we see it bringing the industry together, providing this united force of nature.
Sharing your own story, however that may be, matters because we truly believe it puts a face to the industry. Attaching a life to something makes it that much harder for those outside our world to dismiss it.