The Horsey Zoo

As Damaris Phillips kind of said (I don’t remember word for word, so just bear with me):

The Kentucky Derby is like Christmas. Without the Derby, it’d just be the first Saturday of May.

There are no more truer words than the two statements above. Damaris Phillips, you’re my soul sister.


[ca. February 1991]

Legend says that on the day my mother and I, as a newborn, got to leave the hospital, my father took the long way home to stop at the nearest OTB facility (OTB meaning Off Track Betting). Since that fateful winter weekend, I’ve been hooked on horse racing.


Growing up, my mother worked six days a week in order to save money for me. This saved money went to:

  • a savings account,
  • a college fund, and
  • tuition for 9 years of Catholic schooling

I’m forever grateful for my mother’s hard work and eternal love for me.

Monday through Saturday she’d go into the office, and I would hang out with Oma and Opa . . . but not on Saturday. Saturday was a different story, since my dad was always off.

A typical Saturday in the life of little Grace would go something like this:

  • I’d wake up, pretty late, actually, and, like the little brat that I was, I would shout at the top of my lungs, “MOOOOMMMMMMM!” like I was announcing my presence to the world. Every Saturday morning, my dad would come get me, because I wouldn’t get out of bed until someone came for me, and I was always so surprised and happy to see him.
  • We’d get dressed, brush our teeth, and head out the door to this local diner/greasy spoon breakfast place. I would always get white toast, mixed jelly, bacon, and a Diet Coke for breakfast, every Saturday. Ah, the good old days where calories were insignificant and parents would let a three-year old drink pop.
  • After we both pretty much licked our plates clean, we’d head to the race track–or as my dad referred to it, for me, the Horsey Zoo. Depending on the season/time of year, we’d either be watching the races live or simulcasting. Either way, my dad would always buy me a program and make bets for me. Of course, at that time, I’d always pick the one with the pink saddle or the cool name (even though I could barely read), but I got to keep the winnings, if I actually won.

This was how every Saturday, up until I started kindergarten in 1996, played out . . . and I loved it.


Now that I’m older, I still enjoy going to the race track with my dad, but my betting strategies have changed drastically. To be blunt about it, I actually know what I’m doing. I know the difference between a dirt track versus a synthetic one, and how the track affects the horse’s run and gait. I learned, the hard way, that boxing an exacta, trifecta, or superfecta is a little bit more expensive, but essential (in some cases). I know how to gauge a jockey’s stats, to see if the proof is in the pudding, based on how they’ve been running in previous races throughout the day.

Going to the race track (Horsey Zoo) every Saturday with my dad was our bonding time, as my parents were always working. But, this Saturday is the ultimate Saturday, the cream of the crop; it’s the Kentucky Derby.

The crowd gets silent, before the actual race goes off, and then, all of a sudden, like an archangel from above, the choir begins to sing:

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home.

Tears of drunken sadness, joy, and memories are shed as the horses are off, and the adrenaline of the Kentucky Derby begins, but only lasts less than five minutes. A true love of sport.


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