Horse racing has a way of bringing people together. The special beauty and thrill of this sport attracts people of all different ages and backgrounds and forms friendships between people who may have never met otherwise. Every fan of this sport contributes something special and unique to our industry, which is why Champions of the Track and Gate to Wire have partnered to feature a “Fan of the Week” every Friday.
This week we are featuring Jennifer Kelly.
Like many people, Jennifer became entranced with horse racing as a young girl. She watched her first races on television when she was about ten years old and would watch the racing scenes from The Black Stallion over and over again. Though these memories feel vague to her now, she will never forget what it was like to see horse racing in person for the very first time.
“It felt like I was coming home, like this was where I was meant to be,” Jennifer recalled. “It wasn't a big race: it was just an average card at a now-defunct racetrack. The impact of it stays with me.”
That first experience was years ago, but the feeling it gave her has never left. “I still get a thrill watching races in person,” she continued. “I marvel at every phase of the race, the shifts in momentum, and the drive that inspires horses and jockeys in each race, whether it's a claiming race or a Triple Crown classic. Every time, I feel like it speaks to something deep and essential to me.”
Jennifer had been teaching college level writing for some years when a need for flexibility within her family prompted her to seek a career change. She had always been an avid reader and writer and had an appreciation for history, so it was no surprise that her next project would be write a book on horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner Sir Barton.
She went to work, diligently researching and piecing together the often forgotten tale of Sir Barton. In April 2019, her book Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown was published. This book has received rave reviews in the horse racing community and transformed Jennifer from the average racing fan to an important member of this industry. Promoting her book led her to many amazing experiences that she will never forget.
“Part of promoting Sir Barton in 2019 meant that I was invited to give presentations on Sir Barton and his career at places like the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Derby Museum, the Keeneland Library, and more,” Jennifer recounted. “Standing in the HOF and the Derby Museum to talk about this great champion was a dream come true. I had to take a moment to check the tears that came when I thought about where I was -- a long way from that ten-year-old girl in Birmingham, Alabama. At the Library, I saw so many faces that I knew were part of the industry and I was blown away by the interest in this work. I treasure every opportunity to connect with people who are interested in the sport and its history. I will never forget standing on those stages.”
Jennifer was even given the opportunity to call “Riders Up!” for the Sir Barton Stakes on the 2019 Preakness Stakes undercard. She also received a saddle cloth as a souvenir that she has carried with her while out promoting her book. Now Jennifer has begun work on her next book, “Foxes of Belair”, which will tell the stories of Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox and Omaha.
When asked why she loves horse racing, Jennifer had some wonderful words to say. “I was thinking about that last night: what is it about this sport that drives us? What is it about horses racing that draws us in and keeps us there? Of all of the choices we have, of all of the sports and other pursuits that could ignite our collective passions, why this one? I can see the answer in the back of my mind, but I'm still working on giving it a voice. For now, though, I know that watching horses race is one of the purest expressions of strength and drive and heart that one might find. Horses run because they love it. That partnership between the horse and the people around him or her, that ability of a particular trainer or jockey to bring out something more in that horse, brings me back each time. I can't get enough of it.”
Jennifer Kelly’s passion, knowledge, and pursuit to tell the stories of racing’s history has made our sport a better place. Stay on the lookout for Jennifer’s work in various racing publications and make sure you are following her for updates on her new book! This sport is so lucky to have a fan like her.
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