Tag Archives: horse racing

Mom’s love of horses

mom horse

Mom loved many things, but she had a special fondness for horses. She had been around them as a child, growing up on a farm. Surprisingly, she never learned to ride.

Mom also loved horse racing. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s how my parents met, with Mom asking Dad at the diner for the sports section so she could see the horse racing results.

I know there is a lot of controversy surrounding the world of horse racing, and those concerns should be addressed. But for me, there is a sentimental factor involved. My parents brought me to horse racing outings throughout my childhood, and I remember those days with fondness.

While going through a pile of paperwork I’d set aside after Mom died, I came across a box marked, “Tax Returns.” ZZZZ, I thought. Still, I flipped through the neatly organized tax return envelopes, some going back to the early 1990s. And I was rewarded when I got to the end, when I came across a pile of personal belongings.

One of the pieces buried in the tax box was a Hollywood Park racing program. As I flipped through it, I realized it was a memento from one of Mom’s favorite memories.

Hollwyood Park program cvr

Many of my parents’ early dates revolved around going to the races. They both shared a love of horse racing, so it was a natural destination. There was one outing my mother remembered fondly, maybe my father, not so much. Mom recounted a day where the two of them had basically broke even with their bets until the last two races of the day. Dad struck first, winning $13.20 in the eighth race. But Mom had the last laugh, winning $53 in the ninth race. She never forgot the name of the winning horse, and neither have I: Hail to Garr. And now there it was in print for me to see for the first time.

HP Program interior

Mom made notes in the program to highlight their winnings. She said Dad was quiet on the way back, and seemed to be fuming that Mom trumped him in winnings, haha.

I’m so glad that I finally went through that “boring” box of tax returns. I found it on Saturday, just after the Kentucky Derby race. That’s now a bittersweet event for me, because it was one of the last happy moments Mom and I had together. She was too weak to get out of bed, but we watched the race via livestream on my computer.

The year she died, there was a Triple Crown winner, but she didn’t live long enough to see history being made.

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Missing my mom to celebrate a piece of history

On Saturday evening, history was made, as American Pharoah won the Belmont and the coveted Triple Crown.

I know there is a great deal of controversy about horse racing as a sport, but for me, it reminds me of family.

After all, my parents met over horse racing results at a Los Angeles diner.

As a family, some of our best outings were to Hollywood Park (now closed) and Del Mar race tracks. My parents were relaxed, the weather was usually nice and yes, watching the horses run is quite an adrenaline rush.

Over the years, there have been many horses that have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, only to disappoint fans by being unable to clinch that final victory at the Belmont. Last year, the same thing happened. My mom was so disappointed.

This year, the hype was the same or even greater. This was the year, this was the horse, the Triple Crown was going to happen.

My mom and I were able to watch the first race together, as she was in pain but lucid for the Kentucky Derby. She didn’t feel like getting out of bed so I streamed the race on my laptop and we watched it from her bed.

She loved American Pharoah.

By the time the Preakness came, Mom was pretty bad off. She was sleeping most of the time and not very aware when she was awake. I didn’t even watch the race, as I forgot to tune in while busy with caregiver duties.

So you can imagine my mixed emotions when the Belmont ran Saturday. I cheered loudly for American Pharoah, who made what other horses couldn’t do for 37 years look easy.

Embed from Getty Images

But there was also a deep pang in my heart that Mom just missed this glorious moment. She would have been thrilled. I watched my phone as it remained silent. She would have definitely called and talked my ear off about the race.

I hope somewhere, somehow, she was aware of the historic win, though honestly, these things probably do not matter in another life. Still, I like to believe that if she was given a bit of luck as she crossed over, she sprinkled some on American Pharoah.

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Dad entering the Irish Sweepstakes

As I was going through some of my father’s items, I found this Irish Sweepstakes ticket shoved deep into a forgotten pocket of his wallet. Lord knows how long it had been there. The date on the ticket is 1978. I would have been four at the time. I remember some hoopla over these tickets in our household, and no doubt my mom was concerned about the fact that it was illegal in the U.S., though ironically, the Irish Sweepstakes reportedly earned more revenue from America than any other country. I’m guessing Dad just had his family members slip a ticket inside a letter.

I knew as a kid that it was some kind of lottery, but I didn’t realize that part of the proceeds benefited hospitals in Ireland, much like the lottery here in Georgia benefits higher education. I guess I always thought the Irish Sweepstakes was more like a traditional raffle, but throw in the race horse element and the whole thing becomes complicated. In fact, Dad also enjoyed betting on the horses, and my mom did too. Going to the racetracks in California a couple of times a year were like mini-vacations for us. Dad never had much luck, but he would usually break even.

Of course, it was my mom that ended up having all of the luck, winning $100,000 on a scratch-off ticket. Sadly, her luck came too late for Dad and her to be able to enjoy it. Dad was already well into his dementia, and instead of using the winnings to take a vacation, the extra funds helped pay for Dad’s expensive care over the next year. Of course, we were lucky as a family not to have to wipe out our bank accounts like many families in similar situations have to do, but it is still bittersweet.

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