As we gather with family and friends and rejoice in the bountiful glory of the season. I find myself looking back with a grateful heart for the blessings that have been bestowed upon my family. If you are reading this, you can add your name to the fortunate list as well. I have had the opportunity to work in the racing industry for years, and every holiday meant a big racing event. The only two days industry workers expect to have off would be Christmas and Easter. All of the other holidays and Hallmark events would find us doing what we loved. We come to watch and wager on the races, but the best part of the game are the people.
Santa’s Parking Lot
Many moons ago as a younger man, I used to manage the parking lot. It was a good job, and would eventually lead me to more opportunities. I was driving around to make my rounds and passed by gate #2. This was a high traffic area, and the blunt of the cars would make their way through this entrance. I pulled up and walked to the collectors booth when I saw one of my employees step out into the cold to greet a car dressed in a Santa suit. He had candy canes in his apron, and would wish everyone a Merry Christmas. If he noticed there was a kid or two in the car, he would ask them to wait as he stepped back in and came out with crayons, a coloring book, or a Hot Wheels car for the youngsters. His wife soon joined the seasonal joy and would make cookies and candies for the everyday patrons they knew by name. They never asked for praise or a thank you, but just wanted to pass along the magic of Christmas. I turned my head as Santa would duck in and have a cup of coffee with a double shot of bourbon. I thought it wouldn’t be a good thing to be on Santa’s naughty list… Carl has been gone for years now, but I can still hear his booming Tennessee accent greeting every car as if it were the only one. Merry Christmas, Carl.
You find yourself working in the brutal cold, or the blazing heat at Kentucky-Ohio area tracks. The pony people are hard working blue-collar people who “pony” the horses to the starting gate. They have a dangerous job at times, but you’d never know it by looking at them. They’re the ones who take their horses to the rail, and allow children to pet them and have their picture taken. You could imagine riding a horse in the summer sun could get pretty sticky. Actually it’s a job that not many would sign up to do, except the ones who really love the sport. There was a gentleman who would bring in cases of water and drop them into ice. Nobody asked, and the track management was a little tight with the purse strings. This man never asked for help, and would just take care of this while nobody was looking. I guess it wouldn’t fit much into a Christmas story, but it holds what the true meaning of what Christmas is all about. He would hose down hot horses near the winner’s circle, and planned and executed every charitable event that would benefit those who could use a hand. He never turned down a chance to help, and taught me more about racing than everyone combined. You may run into this guy if you ever venture out to Turfway Park. He’ll be helping his best friend / track photographer, Pat Lang. He is small in stature but a giant in heart, and a man I’m lucky to call my friend. You can catch him each and every Thursday as the host of the “Winning Ponies Internet Show.” – Merry Christmas, John Engelhardt.
No matter what your belief, or what holiday you celebrate. This time of year takes us back. Back to a time of few worries, and where hope and happiness carried us in our daily walk through life. Thoroughbred racing is a majestic sport that captures our hearts. But I have always believed the best part of the game are the people involved. They may be the stars that we know by name, or they could be the people behind the scenes that make the sport happen, but it’s definitely the people. Enjoy your time with family and friends, and keep the spirit of the season in your heart. – From your good friends at Winning Ponies, we wish you and yours a Merry Christmas!