A horserace changed my life. Let me tell you the story.
I had never been to a horserace in my life when I went to the Virginia Gold Cup in 1970. I went with a group, and I was surprised to see that there were bookies there, taking bets out in the open. While those days are gone, that day no police bothered them, and I thought it was great fun to place a bet. I don't recall the bookies ever having to pay me back, however, but, my interest was piqued. I went to the racetrack that summer and bet on some horses. I cashed my first ticket that day, and that made me think that there had to be a way to make money at this. I started studying every book I could find, and I went to the races every time I was home from law school.
Taking the Daily Racing Form for one month while I should have been studying law, I saw a tiny ad for tickets to the Preakness, the second jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown. On the third Saturday in May, 1973, my best friend and I went to Pimlico and saw the most incredible performance I've ever seen. When Secretariat came past us on the first turn, he was last. Less than a quarter mile later, he was first, and he stayed first the rest of the way. It was dizzyingly impressive, and as he was pulling up, I got down from my chair, turned to my friend and said, "I'd like to have a horse like that someday."
That statement sent my life on to a completely different path from the one I thought I had chosen. After seeing that, practicing law seemed deadly dull, and I gave it up after five years to get into the business of syndicating racehorses. I brought in my family and friends, and many are still in racing over a quarter century later. We endured six years of failures before our stable took off, and then we went everywhere and we beat everybody.
You may think you have your life all planned out. I certainly did. And then something unexpected happens, and your life is never the same again. Many times I've asked myself, "Suppose I had never gone to the Gold Cup. How different would my life be now?"
(George Rowand is the Business Editor of the Fauquier Times Democrat and the author of the book Diary of a Dream: My Journey in Thoroughbred Racing which details George’s career as a racehorse owner. Before trainer Barclay Tagg won the Kentucky Derby with Funny Cide, the best horses he trained belonged to Rowand and his family of syndicate members. Their best was a mare named Miss Josh who won over $500,000.)