Why We Love This Game
Written by Dottie Miller
“Who’s Going to Win, Dot?”
When I was little, I wasn’t just horse crazy like every other little girl, I was addicted. I’d daydream all week, playing with my Breyer Horses, waiting for Tuesday nights when I’d have a two hour riding lesson. I took English lessons and at the end of each lesson there would be a “trail ride” through the woods. I’d love the ring work, of course, but the real icing on the cake was that trail ride. I’d lean forward and dream in my head that I was coming down the stretch, in front of course, winning the Kentucky Derby. I was 10.
My walls were covered with the greats: Secretariat, Affirmed, Cigar… My Breyer collection, which I loved to a psychotic level that my mom would probably validate, became all racehorses – no matter what “breed” they actually were; my Friesian won the Triple Crown several times. At 12 is when I can officially say I was hooked for life. I was always fond of the grey horses and when I saw Silver Charm, that was it.
My parents would always watch the Triple Crown races and I’d be so close to the TV my mom would tell me to move back before I went blind. My best memories are of them asking me every year, “who’s going to win, Dot?” You see, I always picked the favorite and they’d win, i’d look like a professional handicapper and my dad would laugh and say I was good at this “racing stuff”. I loved the praise from my parents and I loved the feeling of screaming at the tv like it helps them run faster. I cried like an infant when Silver Charm didn’t win the Triple Crown. I still scream at the TV and my neighbors likely think I’m a nut.
Naturally, all little girls have to grow up – even 12-year-old professional handicappers – and with my adulthood came marriage and children. I never stopped watching and I made it very clear to both husbands that there would be no events or outings on Triple Crown or Breeders Cup days. My parents still called every year, every Triple Crown race, to ask “who’s going to win, Dot?”
In 2012, I started riding again after 15 years and it was right back to the daydreams from my childhood of riding a big, muscular Thoroughbred down the stretch. Fast forward to 2013 when I was hired to work at Pimlico as a Horsemen’s Relations Assistant for Preakness. The feeling of working at the race track everyday was thrilling. I experienced my first Preakness 16 years after sitting in my living room with my parents cheering for Silver Charm.
If I wasn’t 1000% hooked before, that month working for Maryland Jockey Club sealed the deal. I’d drive in early for work just so I could watch morning works from the rail. The exercise riders, trainers and owners were all so nice and I quickly established relationships. Working in the office at Pimlico you have important people coming in and out all day picking up credentials, media books, tickets. Here I am, my first Preakness, and I’m starstruck all day trying to not make an absolute fool of myself while I get my work done.
I forgot to mention that my favorite jockey growing up was Jerry Bailey. Guess who walks in one day to pick up his media book? I was absolutely starstruck and the amazing Horsemen’s Relations head, knowing I was, told me that I could give him his guide. I’ll forever remember that moment, how unbelievably nice that gesture from her was and how nice Jerry was.
I was blessed to meet several “big name” horses and trainers that year but the person I valued the most was Mr. Ron Turcotte. I met him by chance, walking down the grandstand he was coming the opposite way and had his hands full with several bags of merchandise. This was the 40th Anniversary of Secretariat’s win and Pimlico had Mr. Turcotte signing autographs for patrons. I offered to hold a bag while he signed a fan’s magazine. He asked me to sit down on the bench next to him and we began getting to know each other and he started telling stories from his life. What a sweet, funny, amazing person. He’s the reason why I keep my hair dyed red, as it was then. Mr. Turcotte told me it complimented my green eyes and looked “stunning”. How do you not remain a redhead for life after that?
You see, racing for me is not only about the horses that I love so much, but it’s about the people involved. The grooms who are so happy and proud of their horse whether it wins or not. The exercise riders, pony people, outriders, valets and jockey’s that are always smiling when I see them because they genuinely love what they do. The owners and trainers who know what a horse’s individual needs are and how to help them succeed or responsibly find a second home after racing. And all of the behind-the-scenes people who work tirelessly to make sure things run smoothly.
I suffer lingering effects from a riding accident, including chronic migraines which make everyday a challenge. There are things I cannot do any longer, so photography became my career choice. I’m now a professional equine photographer, specializing in thoroughbred sales and track photography. I spend several days a week at the race track, around the horses and people I love and respect so much. Sometimes, I get to be at the biggest, most recognized breeding and racing farms in Maryland.
Being at the track and on the rail has allowed me to meet so many fans, new and seasoned bettors, and to advocate for Maryland racing. The jockey’s have come to know me through photography and are always friendly, saying hello in the post parade. I know the names of nearly all of the track ponies and their racing names, as most are OTTB’s. It allows me to engage new people at the track, and especially their children, as new people love to know the ponies names and their backgrounds. I love when fans ask me questions about the horses, riders, track and how excited they are when they get down on the rail and see these athletes thundering home in front of them.
My father died in October. It was my first Kentucky Derby without that “who’s going to win Dot?” call. After 27 years of being asked, it was heart-wrenching, to say the least. I was at Pimlico the Thursday prior to Preakness photographing and struck up and conversation with a new fan after he recognized me through social media. He was there for the races after many years of watching on TV but never visiting a track. I gave him a tour of the track and introduced him to everyone I could. He had a smile on his face the entire time. He was so excited to meet people I consider my friends that he looks at like celebrities. Everything came full-circle as this man, excited to meet my friends and watch the horses, was really just like me. I gave him betting suggestions and we watched the races. His excitement was exciting to me as well, knowing this man was here for the first time and hooked like I was. Prior to the final race, after an amazing day of perfect weather and cashing several times, he turns to me and says, “who’s going to win, Dot?” Full circle.
This is why I love this game. The people whom I was star stuck over, I can now call friends. The horses I have loved since a child, I still enjoy following at the track, in stud careers and assisting owners and trainers in finding them perfect second homes after their careers have come to an end. You can make a huge impact on people with kindness and patience – I’m proof and so is the man I met. Oh, and since that day just a month ago, he’s returned with his co-workers, all of whom had never been to the track before.