Have you ever had the first ride in a brand new car? Me neither, but I think I get the idea. Everything is polished and bright, and it handles like a dream. The same can be said for race tracks. I have had the pleasure of working at five tracks in my career, and they have been an incredible ride for this horse player.
River Downs – I started in the parking lot, and worked around some really neat guys. One is a doctor; a lawyer, and the one of the others is the coach of the University of Cincinnati Bearcats. Hot summer days pitching quarters, and directing cars. Life couldn’t have been any easier. I was a young man, and had started college. It worked out great for me, and I met a good friend who asked me if I wanted a job at Turfway Park doing the same. I couldn’t wait as this would be year-round employment, and it would help out with school.
Turfway Park / Kentucky Downs – I began on lot #2 in early September. The hot summer turned into cool autumn breezes, and eventually into very cold winters. The weather was brutal, and I made some lifelong friends that makeup a great chapter in my life. After a few years, I moved in to managing the parking areas. I was about to graduate, and I started looking for a teaching job. That year, there were massive cuts and nobody was hiring. So, I asked my boss if there was anything year-round. He gave me my first position inside. I was an assistant in admissions department, ran parking, and held down the job of race book manager. Life couldn’t get any better. Turfway was growing, and they purchased a European turf oval on the Kentucky/Tennessee border. It was named Dueling Grounds, as “dueling with pistols” was illegal in Tennessee and they would venture a hundred yards or so and straighten out differences with a six shooter. There were three of us that took turns making the four hour drive to manage the facility. After months of this long journey, I became the lone wolf who drove down on Friday, and would leave on late Sunday. We would reconcile the week, and prepare for the weekend crowd. The track was renamed Kentucky Downs, and eventually ownership changes left me with fond memories, and a saddle cloth from a turf runner named Manila. Turfway Park went through some ownership changes, and these were some of the best years for me. The new president was a “go-getter,” and he loved people who cared about the sport. We hit it off from the beginning, and Bob gave me some opportunities that I am eternally grateful.
River Downs – I left Turfway Park, and wanted to go back and teach. I was sub-teaching and was going to find my new path. Racing was not doing well, and things looked bleak. That was until Christmas break, and I was called by John Engelhardt to interview for a director of marketing position. John didn’t bother telling me that the job was mine, and when he sat in on my interview. He said if he lives to be 100, he’ll never see a man sell himself like I did. ” Hell, Ed.- I even started to believe your pitch, and I have known you for years.” Those years working at the little track by the river were golden. John and I joke around every now and then and say; ” we’ll never have another job like that.” He was right, as River Downs finally closed the curtains in 2011, and new ownership had come calling. It was a casino company named Pinnacle, and I had little knowledge of the casino industry. We were out of a job, and the prospects are tough in the racing game. It looked all but over.
Keeneland - I have been to Keeneland, thought about Keeneland, but never knew anyone who had worked there. That all changed in 2011, when I was hired as their first “satellite employee,” and would work from Northern Kentucky and drive down once a week for meetings. My title was ADW Coordinator, and I enjoyed the job at first. But as time wore on, I could see the betting industry was tight, and competition for the wagering dollar had become fierce. I loved working with most of the wonderful people, and there were only a few I wouldn’t go fishing. But that is life, and we all learn. Keeneland showed me what first-class meant. If you are ever in doubt, just look up the word “first-class” in the dictionary, and you’ll see a picture of the manicured grounds of Keeneland. Oh, and my boss from Turfway Park was named Bob Elliston. He offered to give me an office at Turfway so I could pursue my ambitions. He knew it was going to be a tough road, but helped me chase down my dream anyway. Thanks, Bob…
Belterra Park – I had started thinking about doing something else in life, and the newest opportunity arose from the ashes. Belterra Park was the new track that was built from the rubble of the old River Downs. It is a state-of-the-art facility, and I have been hired in a seasonal role. I will be the first track announcer and morning line odds maker at Belterra Park. This makes the third time I have worked in the area of River Downs. The past few days I have been creating the odds, and working from home. I went in today and did some sound checks, and bought my racing license. I realized how lucky I have been. I was a kid who tagged along with his dad to the races, and have worked at five different tracks. This has all happened 15 minutes from my home (except driving down to Kentucky Downs and Keeneland). When I put on the headset for the first race tomorrow, I’ll be thinking about the incredible people who have helped me along the way, and the ones who are watching from above. My mom once told me that I have been a lucky man. I have had the pleasure of meeting good people, doing what I love, and living my dream. “She said a life well lived is double the joy. First you get to experience this, and later in life you can look back and enjoy your fond memories.” Now that sounds about right. My newest chapter begins tomorrow, and wish me luck. I’ll be the guy with the big smile on his face calling races at a brand new track.