You’d think that getting a snow day on Thursday could be about the best news that a turf-writing teacher could get…and for much of the day it was. I slept a little later, I got caught up with my grading, I hung out with the cats…the dreamy stuff of which snow days are made.
But in the afternoon I received an e-mail that trumped even the giddiness of an unexpected day off. Brien Bouyea, communications officer of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, wrote to tell me that my name had been added to the panel of voters that vote for Hall of Fame inductees.
The news was incredibly humbling for a number of reasons. As a student of racing history, I all too often lose myself in archives and records, absorbed in and engrossed by the people and the horses who have created the sport’s history in this country over the last several hundred years. As a Saratoga native, I take pride in and love unreasoningly the track that’s existed since 1863 and is, as far as I can tell, the oldest sporting venue in the country, the track at which so many unforgettable moments have taken place. The opportunity to play some small role in that history is a privilege that I couldn’t ever have expected to have.
But this honor is meaningful to me in ways that aren’t quite so obvious. My mother worked at the Museum from 1980 to 1988, serving briefly as its director. She told me last night that when she started working there, “We all did everything,” from working in the gift shop to helping with the mail. Elaine Mann was then the director of the Museum, and through the eight years of her employment, my mother took on various roles and responsibilities, departing right around the time the Museum completed a major renovation. For much of my growing up, the Museum was an extension of my home, the people who worked there as familiar as my neighbors. My mother’s work at the Museum led to my brother’s and my first jobs in racing, at the Fasig-Tipton sales.
The tangible, physical space devoted to racing’s history, the Hall of Fame within the Museum, awes me every time I step into it. I see the silks and the plaques, the names and the dates and the accomplishments, and I am gone, gone back decades, even centuries, lost in the recognition of those who shaped the game and made it great.
I am supposed to shortly receive the first set of materials for this year’s voting. I will, I imagine, have a steep learning curve ahead of me; this teacher is about to become a pretty serious student. But what a fun assignment it’s going to be, what absorbing material to study. For this homework, I can’t wait.