The horse racing bug finds a way to bite people even far removed from a track. This was the case for Amanda Lee, who grew up in a state devoid of horse racing but is now completely immersed through her popular watercolor portraits of racehorses.
Amanda was born with an interest in horses, but it was the 2005 film Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story that marked the beginning of her love for horse racing. Then nine-year-old Amanda was absolutely obsessed with the film's story of a race mare recovering from injury to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. She read books inspired by the movie, drew pictures, and walked around listening to the soundtrack on her portable CD player.
Newspaper headlines proclaiming Barbaro's victory in the 2006 Kentucky Derby caught Amanda's eye the following year as she was standing in line at a gas station with her parents. That was enough for her to vow to never miss another Kentucky Derby; she kept true to the promise she made herself and was in front of the TV to watch the 2007 'run for the roses'.
“I had a piece of paper I still have to this day, where I wrote down the winners of the undercard races and jotted down each Kentucky Derby contender as they pranced by in the post parade,” Amanda recalled. “I was enthralled. But yet, it still felt so far away, like something I would always have to settle for only seeing on TV.”
Amanda put her entire heart into Barbaro later that year. His warrior-like battle with injury and laminitis affected people around the globe and young Amanda was no exception. She read books and articles about the late Kentucky Derby winner and won contests at school with essays she wrote about his story. He was her first horse racing love.
Her attention to horse racing ebbed and flowed over the years due to her distance from and lack of exposure to the sport. Eventually, Zenyatta came along and sucked her right back in as Barbaro had. Zenyatta enchanted Amanda and her heart broke alongside the rest of the country’s when the mare lost the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2010.
“From that point on, I paid more attention on social media, I tuned in to all the Triple Crown races and Breeder’s Cup races, and tried to get my fill the best I could of this glorious sport from a distance,” Amanda said. “I still was alone in my interest. It was just me, in a horse racing desert, cheering my favorites from afar and wishing there was something closer that I could be a part of.”
Amanda was fully engrossed in horse racing by 2018. It was also this year that she decided to expand her artistic abilities by taking a watercolor painting class. Her main medium had been pencil and paper and she found herself frustrated with her “perceived lack of skill” with watercolor. It wasn’t until a few months after this course that Amanda decided to break her paints out and start painting animals for fun.
“In March of 2020, so many aspects of life were on hold and thrown suddenly into uncertainty, and I picked up my paintbrush to quell some of the anxiety. I chose to paint my favorite racehorse, Covfefe. I had no idea the journey I was starting.”
Amanda’s painting of Champion Three-Year-Old Filly and Champion Sprinter Covfefe garnered quite a bit of attention on social media. It even caught the eye of Covfefe’s owner LNJ Foxwoods. Amanda's sent LNJ Foxwoods a few paintings over the years and they have returned the favor with special gifts such as a keychain made with Covfefe’s hair.
“That was the absolute kindest gesture and one I never would have expected,” Amanda shared when asked about the keychain. “Not everyone gets to say they have a part of their favorite racehorse.”
“As someone who doesn’t work in the industry and lives so far from most parts of it, I never expected to have that kind of connection to really ANY horse,” she raved. “They have been so kind to me and my fandom of their prized filly and I’m grateful that my art opened that door.”
LNJ Foxwoods are not the only people to take notice of Amanda’s artwork. Though she lives far from a track, social media has allowed her to make friends and connections from all corners of the sport. Amanda has amassed more than 2,500 followers on Twitter and Instagram and each one of these followers is a dedicated supporter of her work.
The praises come rolling in each time Amanda shares one of her paintings. Her followers gush about her ability to capture each horse’s likeness and personality.
“I honestly never expected to garner the attention that I have on social media with my art,” Amanda said. “It has been almost overwhelming at times. I'm so grateful for every kind word that is said in regard to my work, and I'm glad that I'm able to share something that people are able to enjoy.”
“It has made me feel as though I have some small place in the sport I love, and made the sport feel so much more accessible to me,” she described. “And the many people I've met and talked with through my art--from trainers to owners to breeders to other fans--have been absolutely wonderful! They have been amazingly kind to me and through their kindness, I have had some unforgettable experiences at the track. Little 9-year-old Amanda would never have dreamed of this.”
Not a day goes by that Amanda is not engaged in horse racing in some way, even if it's just virtually. She visited Santa Anita Park for the Breeders' Cup in 2019 and has also made the journey to Saratoga, Kentucky Downs, Keeneland, and Del Mar.
It has been three years since Amanda painted her first racehorse, Covfefe, and the journey she has been on since is nothing short of incredible. She’s carved herself a space in the world of horse racing where she can make an impact. Her work has brought an immeasurable amount of joy to racing fans and the connections of each horse she paints.
Amanda started as a child mesmerized by horse racing but feeling like it was a dream in some faraway land. Now she is a popular and celebrated artist in the sport she loves. Her story is inspirational, as it proves there is space in horse racing for everyone no matter their background or location. Nine-year-old Amanda may “never have dreamed of this”, but she would certainly be proud.