It’s September 11th today eighteen years later and this is the kind of day where every American asks themselves where was I when the world stopped turning?
September 11th 2001, 3 a.m.
I forcefully pulled myself out of bed in Redlands, California, 2,790 miles from NYC. I coughed up a lot of flem, chugged some coffee and raced out my front door in this desert town, towards my 1990 Dodge pickup truck. It was over an hours drive to commute fifty miles, inching along with other metro Los Angeles sleepy commuters on the 10 freeway through the concrete jungle to Arcadia, just to the east of Los Angeles and I had to be at the track by four to walk hots.
What the hell track? And who was I walking?
Since I was a little kid, it was always my dream to train racehorses and when I was twenty-one and fed up with working three shit jobs and going to college for a degree I had no idea what I would do with, I said fuck it one day and drove myself to morning workouts at Santa Anita Park (The track) I had never stepped foot at Clocker’s Corner at the far turn of Santa Anita’s green grandstand before and the sight of the leggy racehorses huffing and breezing on the chilly morning was something I will never forget. The sun was barely up and the sky was pink as set after set of gallopers made their way past me, hooves echoing from my position on the apron. Now what dod I do, I asked myself. I watched the sun rising with the San Gabriel Mountains behind them, such a gorgeous backdrop for one of the most famous thoroughbred racetracks in the world and I thought, yes, this is what I want to do with my life. I just needed to figure out how and talk someone into hiring a girl who only had book smart knowledge about horse flesh. And who also did not speak Spanish, a language that dominates the backside world of the race track.
It was nerve wracking as I approached one of the first people I saw, world reknowed thoroughbred trainer, Jenine Sahadi, trainer of Lit De Justice, a Breeder’s Cup champion, twice, and someone I strived to emulate someday. At the time, she was one of the only female trainers in the United States. As the sun rose over the mountains, I asked her for a job and Jenine Sahadi told me to do something, anything, else with my life. She was a real bitch to me, but completely on point; Working at the track is a hard life for anyone, let alone a women. Expect to be harassed daily, usually in Spanish and even if you don’t understand what exactly is being said, it’s normally a very #MeToo moment.
Jenine tried to give me expert advice from a women who had worked hard to get to the top and was still treated not as fairly as any man, but it was very disconcerting the way she delivered that message. I would meet her years later at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and get totally Kathy Bates in Misery, fangirl, and Jenine is actually a very nice lady.
After Jenine told me to kick rocks and stay the hell away from the horse racing industry, if I was smart; I met another trainer, Richard Mandella, who with his awesome and friendly smile told me he would find someone to hire me. He took me to John Sheriff’s barn (This was years before his world champion Zenyatta graced his stalls and he was not a well-known trainer) and I began my career of being bossed around by asshole racehorses. Walking hots is basically baby sitting high strung race horses after they workout and are cooled down enough to be put back in stalls. I would walk them around and around, and they were usually fired up from just coming off the track. It’s pretty repetitive but it’s the bottom and it’s where everyone starts, especially if you don’t really know your way around horses. I feel blessed that Mr. Sheriff’s took a shot on me and gave me that job.
Back to the flem
So I had spent the last two months of summer, 2001, leading into September, battling bronchitis, who knows, it could have been walking pneumonia by September, and as my stick shift truck (Oh the year 2001, Californians still drove stick shifts!) idled in traffic somewhere near Pomona, I almost passed out in traffic. I pulled off the freeway to throw up, I was coughing so hard. And it wasn’t even light out yet! I felt miserable and hopeless and just that I couldn’t do it. I can’t start at the bottom in the race track industry; I don’t know a word of Spanish. I don’t even know how to say bronchitis or flem in Espanol. So I turned my truck around and never made it to Santa Anita Park on that morning. I never even went back for my check. Instead, I threw myself on my couch in the Redlands apartment and thought in my misery, now what, what do I do with my life now?
It was shocking for the phone to ring, at maybe six a.m. and even more so that my best friend Ryan was calling me at that hour. I knew something had to be wrong as I picked up my Nextel cell phone.
The words he spoke to me about what was happening on the east coast seemed unreal as I turned on the t.v. and watched the catastrophe fill the screen. People running from grey clouds of smoke, terror on their faces, running for their lives. I forgot about my problems in an instant. How on earth could something like this be happening, I wondered as I watched the day’s events unfolding on my t.v. screen. Ryan told me on the phone on that early morning that friends in New York had told his mom that people were jumping from the towers and that seemed unreal. How could that possibly be true? I was glued to the t.v. screen for days to come, as was the rest of the nation, watching the unbelievable on t.v. and wanting to do something to help those poor people. I wanted desperately to give blood but was afraid I would pass out. What else can you do to help when you are on another side of the country watching this unreal event unfold?
The days to come seemed just unbelievable as, like the rest of Americans, we learned more about the events and the hijackers, words like shoe bombs and Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden became part of our vocabulary as Americans. I forgot about my petty problems as we all thought about those thousands of Americans who lost their lives on September 11th and all those passengers on jets who never made it home to their families. Now, eighteen years later, watching the news videos from 2001, our world is forever changed. We may all have iPhones and be able to watch sports ball on our phone from anywhere in the world, but the world is such a different place after this terrorist attack graced the shores of America.
Eighteen years in the future my life has evolved into something I never dreamt possible. When I gave up on my horse racing dream in 201, I thought, this is it, I tried, I’ll never work in the horse racing industry. Then five years ago I found a marketing job at Santa Anita Park that changed my life. My career in the horse racing industry has taken me to some amazing places I never expected to go in my lifetime. I’ve hosted tours to the pink skied morning workouts and the barns to get to know the racehorses personally. I’ve watched some of the best horses in the world thunder past Santa Anita’s green grandstand form literally the best seat in the house.
I’ve worked for the Breeder’s Cup and hobnobbed with horse racing celebrities. I’ve hung out with some of my horse racing idols and some of them know me by name, always offering a friendly smile when we pass each other on our workdays. I’ve also met some seriously stuck up Hollywood celebrities while getting paid to be an ambassador to this sport that I love.
One of my best days ever at work had to be the day I met our Triple Crown champion Justify and was given the job of leading tours to Bob Baffert’s barn. And yes, then I was bitten by a Triple Crown champion and had to fill out an accident in the workplace paperwork.
All of this led, no not to training thoroughbreds of my own, but actually, this last year purchasing a partnership in my own racehorse. My own very slow racehorse. It’s been a whirlwind eighteen years and I will never, ever forget where I was on September 11th because it all brought me here, full circle to my career with these majestic creatures.