by Bobby Zen

I had the pleasure of spending Saturday evening at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races on Saturday, September 21, and it was a great night of entertainment. The casino and race track were both flush with fans and employees dressed for the occasion, which was the fifth annual Race for the Ribbon.  The track partners with the West Virginia affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Foundation to benefit breast cancer research, care and awareness.

Many folks wore the signature pink Race for the Ribbon shirts, which feature a Thoroughbred thundering down the stretch, while many of the ladies (and some guys) also wore many variations of pink hats. There was a fun contest worth several hundred dollars to the best hat, and runners-up collected cash, too. There was also a silent auction with a lot of very cool racing memorabilia.

Oh yeah, there were also 13 races on the card, 11 of which were handicaps or stakes.  The night was highlighted by a pair of open events for three year-olds, the $400,000 Charles Town Oaks and the $400,000 Researcher (formerly the Red Legend).  The evening’s purses totaled over $1 million, only slightly dampened by a drizzling rain that turned into a deluge before the fourth race before blowing through.

The rain didn’t, however, dampen the spirits of Lisa Conrad, whom I caught up with during the evening. She is a paramedic for the Baltimore City Fire Department, and, to be fair, it was easy to catch up with her, since has a pretty big brace on her right leg. She is recovering from an injury to that right ankle and also has some fused vertebrae that slows her down just a tad.

None of this, however, keeps her from running a rescue operation called Happyville Thoroughbred Foundation, a family operation where she rescues horses headed for slaughter. The slaughter pen is a scary but real thing that some runners face when they can no longer compete.  Lisa, and people like her, are all that stands between some unfortunate horses and a grisly end.

Since Happyville has to outsource the boarding, Lisa keeps only four horses at a time.  The cost to board is about $200 per animal, and feed and supplements add another $1200 annually per horse.

What’s the goal? She retrains the horses to become hunters or jumpers, which can take anywhere from six to eighteen months.  Then she sells them to people interested in offering them a second career. I think that’s a pretty good thing for the lucky horses to make this program.

Lisa hopes to work her way back into the horse racing business; maybe hotwalking, grooming, working horses in the morning, and finally training. It seems like a sure thing that she will be good for the game, and I, for one, wish her good luck on her endeavors,.

Later, I ran into Charles Town’s long time race caller Jeff Cernik, who has been handling the duties there since 1999 (though on Saturday it was Larry Collmus behind the mike). Jeff pointed out how the quality of just about everything at the facility has increased over his years. The racetrack and casino, the horses and the purses, and of course, the people are all part of that equation.

Jeff said that seeing Game On Dude compete in this year’s Charles Town Classic was likely the highlight of his time there.  When he started, of course, the notion that a horse like Game On Dude would run at Charles Town was, frankly, laughable.  Yes, he’s a man who’s seen some changes.