Journey to Godolphin Flying Start

The Life
Annise Montplaisir in the paddock before a race at Canterbury Park in the time before she joined the Godolphin Flying Start program. (Courtesy of Annise Montplaisir)

Two weeks ago, I walked around the yard of Zabeel Stables in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, following trainer Satish Seemar and the group of my fellow Godolphin Flying Start trainees. We are beneficiaries of a two-year international leadership and management program in the Thoroughbred industry.

This scholarship is graciously given by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum – one of the most prolific owners/breeders worldwide and incessant supporter of the industry. Dubai is our fifth and final “new” country of the program (we will graduate in Ireland where we began the course), and our visit to Zabeel Stables was part of our introduction to the racing industry here.

Godolphin Flying Start trip to Zabeel Stables. (Courtesy of Annise Montplaisir )

Stable lads led sleek Thoroughbreds down paved pathways and alongside a long, crystal blue equine swimming pool. One groom untacked a horse on the bright green lawn. The natural beauty of the horses and humming energy of morning training was a magnificent juxtaposition against the Dubai skyline. Black, silver and gold sparkling towers pierced the sky, disguising the desert they’ve grown out of. It was one of those moments where your stomach flutters and you wonder to yourself – “How did I get here?”

My introduction to horse racing was similar to the fabled Alice crawling down a rabbit hole and finding herself in a wonderland of bizarre adventures. The journey that led me to Dubai is unique, but illustrates that regardless of where you are from, you can find your way into horse racing.

I grew up in Fargo, N.D, a place most commonly known for a movie about a ransom deal gone very wrong, a woodchipper, and a quirky homicide cop named Marge Gunderson. When I was 12, per a friend’s recommendation, I sat down with a bowl of popcorn to watch the ESPN film “Ruffian.” The gripping ascent of her career, her unwillingness to lose, and the emotions of the people surrounding her enthralled me. Whatever childhood dream job I had in mind before that was a vague memory by the time the credits rolled. I was now going to work in horse racing. 

My summers began to revolve around six days of racing at the North Dakota Horse Park (NDHP), a boutique racetrack in my hometown. It was a place of firsts – first winning ticket, first racehorse I cared for, first horse I galloped, and first job as a young professional in racing. It was also where I first learned about Godolphin Flying Start.

Saratoga Special crew: Tom Law, Montplaisir, Ben Gowans, and Sean Clancy (Courtesy of Annise Montplaisir)

I studied management communication and international studies at North Dakota State University, meaning my geographic location was not ideal for traveling to destinations involving racing throughout college.

My little Toyota Rav4 carried me over 9,000 miles for internships with the American Quarter Horse Association in Amarillo, Texas, and two summers as a staff writer for The Saratoga Special, a horse racing newspaper printed only during the Saratoga Race Course meet. Upon graduation, I moved to Kentucky, where I interned with Fasig-Tipton Co., Keeneland, and Mill Ridge Farm before applying to Godolphin Flying Start in 2018.

The day of my Flying Start interview, I was so nervous that I consumed half the food in my pantry before leaving the house, and half a pan of brownies when I was finished. When I received the phone call informing me of my acceptance, I had just returned from Churchill Downs, where I was working for the Kentucky Derby notes team. Seconds after pulling into my hotel parking lot and putting my car in park, my phone buzzed and the news was delivered. I called my mother, and she laughed while I cried, both of us recalling the years we dreamed of this moment.

No matter who you are or where you are from, you can be part of horse racing. I look forward to sharing my Godolphin Flying Start journey with you over the next five months. Godolphin Flying Start 2020-’22 applications are now open, and close Feb. 10.

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