Fourteen years ago, Thoroughbred trainer Dominick Imperio decided to give the woman who would become his daughter-in-law a special birthday present: a yearling.
"My husband told me to give it back," said Elizabeth Loftus, who goes by Libby and who eventually married Dominick's son, Michael. "He likes to blame me for dragging us back into horse racing."
Though Michael worked in his father's barn growing up, he didn't follow his father into the business, instead going to work in commodities trading, which is where he and Loftus met.
"There's a feeling in horse racing that's very similar to the trading floor," Loftus said. "There's a thrill that makes you thrive on it."
In 2002 Loftus started her own commodities business, focusing on gold, silver, and crude oil. That was about the same time that she got her yearling, and she became as much a student of equine physical attributes as she was of the market.
"Michael is totally a numbers person—buying the horses, claiming them, deciding where to run," she said. "I much prefer the more physical side of it, and any given weekend, you can find me at the barn, going over each horse from head to toe.
"My father-in-law taught me really well. I can find the injuries, I can tell if a horse is a lame, and I really like that part of owning horses."
Usually in partnership, she and Imperio own several dozen horses, though she runs some of their fillies in her name alone. Among her favorites of the many horses they've owned was New York-bred General Maximus, two-time winner of the Hudson Stakes who suffered a fatal injury in the 2011 Fall Highweight Handicap (gr. III).
"He was my number one favorite," she said. "As soon as I walked in the barn, and he could hear me or smell me, he'd go wild. He'd become like a puppy around me."
Describing his breakdown as "really brutal," she said that she and Imperio felt guilty about collecting the insurance money, so she donated the $50,000 to the Belmont Child Care Association, which sits on the Belmont Park backstretch and provides affordable early education to children of New York's racetrack workers. General Maximus was honored with a classroom named for him.
Now president of the BCCA board, Loftus became aware of the organization in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 2008, when she was invited to its annual fundraiser.
"I live in New York City and I constantly go to charity events," she said. "This was the first one I ever went where they were raising money for items they actually needed—diapers, a changing table. I thought that was brilliant."
As board president, she presides over board meetings, sits on several committees, and oversees the planning of the organization's many fundraisers, which are well-supported by the local racing community.
"These are very special kids who technically have nothing," she said. "You're giving them a chance to get an opportunity in the world that they normally would never have had."
Last summer at Saratoga Race Course, Loftus and Imperio's horses made it to the winner's circle nine times, more than ever before, and they ended 2015 with 32 wins. This year picked up where 2015 left off, as they collected nine wins in January.
Which doesn't mean that Loftus is complacent, taking a lesson from her day job.
"It's very similar to commodities," she said. "You learn something new every day. If you don't, you won't continue to be successful."