By John DeSantis
Nearly a year ago, owner/breeder Trudy McCaffery, of Free House, Bien Bien, and Mane Minister fame, took me by the arm and announced, "We've got to get a group of kids to the Breeders' Cup. I need your help."
Now, if you've ever been around McCaffery you know she's a great mix--the tenacity of a Jack Russell and the heart of a Labrador.
The kids were teenage presidents of online horse racing fan clubs who had e-mailed McCaffery--last in a long line of people they had approached for help.
McCaffery quickly enlisted the services of Anne Palmer, then director of Del Mar's horsemen's program, and Caton Bredar, TV Games Network's talented host, and began to ask people for money and other considerations.
Now, around the track people are always asking for money--$20 to play a horse that can't lose; $25,000 to claim one they think they can move up; $1 million for a colt bred to be any kind. And there are lots of other worthy causes too--retired horse foundations, injured rider funds, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. It seemed like there really wasn't room for another charity.
But McCaffery hustled around the box seat area, made phone calls, and mailed letters. She explained that "these kids are our future..." and that "other sports spend millions on youth programs..." Which made sense.
So, without a tax-deduction, racing people chipped in from $20 to $2,000, the Breeders' Cup supplied tickets, and Calder Race Course provided rooms. The kids attended the races, visited the backstretch to meet trainers and horses, and an idea became a happening.
Since then, nearly 80 kids and parents have visited grade I races like the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont. They have met the game's top trainers, jockeys, and horses, made new friends and experienced the best racing has to offer.
McCaffery's band is now called Kids to the Cup--a non-profit, charitable corporation with tax-deductible 501(c) (3) status, a board of directors, general counsel, a new scholarship program, and lofty plans for the future.
As executive director, I was fortunate to coordinate and attend every trip and I have some good news for the racing industry. That's right--good news.
We've got some great people in this game.
No matter which track we visited, and we hit most of them on their busiest days of the year, we were treated with kindness and respect. Owners, trainers, jockeys, racetrack management, and staff took time out for the kids and their parents. They showed horses, signed autographs, posed for pictures, conducted tours, answered questions, lectured, and most importantly, did these things with genuine sincerity.
Those who picked up the tab--the generous people who donated money to Kids to the Cup and made this possible--realize that we can't continuously take from the present without giving something to the future. Someday, some of these kids will do great things in this game. All they need is a little help and they got it.
Finally, I wish all of you could meet these kids. They have a gleam in their eyes, and fire in their bellies. It would remind you of yourself many years ago. First, they are fans of the horse, then, the race, and finally, the business. They crave information, seek opportunity, and need attention.
We tried to wear them out at the track from sunup to sundown, but couldn't manage it. Parents passed out, while kids stayed on to welcome the wee hours of the morning talking horses.
There wasn't one rotten apple in the barrel, either. Maybe we got lucky. Picked the cream of the crop. But, 40 for 40 over 20 total days at five different tracks? That's not luck. That's class and quality. And these kids have it.
Sometimes it helps to step outside of our problems, table issues, and suspend disagreements in order to take stock of the good things we have. There are some very good people in our game and by the looks of things, we have more willing to join us.