A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Meeting at Breeders’ Cup World Championships brings friends who were strangers together

By Mark Hansel
KyForward managing editor

A group of “friends’ who had never met got together at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs this weekend.

They were brought together through the Thoroughbred Horse Racing Discussion (T.H.R.D.) Facebook page, which was formed in June of 2017.

Some horse racing fans who had only communicated through the Facebook group Thoroughbred Horse Racing Discussion, met in person under the Twin Spires at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs this weekend (photos by Mark Hansel)

Leila Elliott, who lives in central Kentucky, formed the site, which grew quickly and now has more than 6,000 members from around the world.

“I started Thoroughbred Horse Racing Discussion because I wanted to build a place where horse racing fans around the globe could be free to share their opinions, no matter how unpopular, without the worry of being ridiculed or harassed,” Elliott said. “My number one goal from the beginning was to ensure that the group provided a friendly and engaging discussion forum for anyone looking to have a good conversation on our amazing sport.”

The group includes everyone from experienced horsemen, to novices and casual fans. Potential members just need to answer a few questions to be accepted into the group.

Elliott saw the World Championships as an opportunity to for members of the group to share their experiences online and, for some, in person through the T.H.R.D. Breeders’ Cup Bash. Those on track at Churchill Downs met up to walk around the track and grab a few photos, and everyone in the group had the opportunity to engage through live chats.

The trip to Louisville provided Angela Lanius of Hillsdale, Michigan a rare opportunity to bet on the races.

“In Michigan we can’t bet, so you have to be a horse lover to really follow it,” Lanius said. “You have to drive two-and-a half hours to bet, so I just watch. I look to this group when I’m looking at horses because most of the people are horse lovers.”

Self-described track junkie Stephanie Pound of Louisville acted as the unofficial tour guide for members of the Facebook group Thoroughbred Horse Racing Discussion. Members of the group, many of whom have been engaging on social media for more than a year, met for the first time at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships this weekend

Stephanie Pound, a self-described track junkie from Louisville, embraced the opportunity to meet her social media friends in her home city.

At one time, she gave tours at Churchill Downs, so she was the unofficial guide for the group. She shared the story of how Pat Day, who is 4 feet, 11 inches tall commented after he won his only Kentucky Derby aboard Lil E Tee that he felt five feet tall.

A group picture featured a statue of Day in the background and Pound pointed out that it was commissioned at 5 feet tall to commemorate that moment.

“Somebody mentioned this group on Facebook, so I logged on to see what it was all about and asked if I could join and thankfully they let me in,” Pound said.
“I like that I can get on the group and get other people’s opinions. I also think it’s fun for me to come to the track and share pictures with (the group), if you can’t be here to experience it.”

Elliott said one of the things she enjoys most is seeing the interaction among members.

“It has been so wonderful to have the opportunity to cultivate such an excellent community of horse racing fans,” Elliott said. “It is so gratifying to log onto Facebook and see the fun and captivating conversations that members from opposing corners of the world are able to share with one another.”

As the site grew quickly, Elliott enlisted Madison Avery Oriol, who lives in Mississippi, as a co-administrator.

Leila Elliott

“I’m still honored that Leila asked me to help her with the group,” Oriol said. “I’ve seen members who, when joining initially, knew little to nothing about horse racing and now are active and knowledgeable, engaging in thoughtful discussions every day. I myself have learned so much about horse racing since joining and am still learning every day.”

Dee Sicignano made the trip from Brooklyn, New York to enjoy the Breeders’ Cup and meet her social media friends.

“I’m just a horse racing fan and I saw the group starting and it looked like it was going to be a good one and it’s been great, one of the best groups on Facebook,” Sicignano said. “The difference between us and some of the other groups is that we can have good discussions without people getting mad, or getting an attitude.”

There are spirited discussions, but Elliott and Oriol monitor the site closely to ensure civil engagement.

The popularity of horse racing has waned in many markets in recent years, but Elliott sees social media, sites, such as T.H.R.D. as a way for the sport to regain some of its lustre.

“Social media has opened the sport up to not only those that do not live within the vicinity of race tracks, but also to those who are not financially or physically in a position to visit the tracks or the farms where the athletes live,” Elliott said. “Social media has also opened up a new door to a younger generation of fans who, as a generation, is documenting their lives and their interest in posts and tweets; the generation that will carry this sport into the future.”

Contact Mark Hansel at news@nkytrib.com

Related Posts

Leave a Comment