You would expect that the day after the biggest racing event of the year at most tracks would be a quiet, restrained affair to give the track a chance to settle down; not here, though! Sundays at Tampa Bay Downs are dedicated to families, and the track puts on one heck of a show.
I didn’t get up quite as early as I should have this morning, since the time change caught me literally napping; I’m bummed I slept in, though, since the photo below from top trainer Graham Motion’s Instagram shows that it was truly a spectacular morning.
Image via the @grahammotion Instagram account.
When I got to the track, I headed to the backside, which is where the racehorses are stabled during the meet. At Tampa Bay Downs, there is a very special addition to the Thoroughbred community: Mouse the Mascot. Mouse is a miniature horse that the Tampa Bay Downs rescued (through the track’s retired racehorse charity Thoroughbred Retirement of Tampa) from truly despicable circumstances three years ago. Full disclosure: When Mouse first arrived at Tampa Bay Downs, I was her caretaker and trainer, and this little critter is very near and dear to my heart.
To show how far Tampa Bay Downs has brought this little horse, here’s a photo of her when she was rescued. Warning: this image is seriously disturbing.
Image via Mouse’s Facebook page
And here she is after Tampa Bay Downs rehabilitated her. This photo is the opposite of disturbing.
So you can see how far she’s come. Now Mouse has a new job: to be an ambassador for the sport of horse racing and give kids an opportunity to get to know a real-life horse when they come to the races. Mouse also has another skill: she’s an artist, and her work gets auctioned off with all proceeds going to the Thoroughbred Retirement of Tampa to help off-the-track Thoroughbreds find second careers.
Mouse paints by dipping her nose in non-toxic paint and snuffling a blank canvas; she then signs her work by stamping it with a hoof print. Here she is painting:
Image via Mouse’s Facebook page
And here she is signing her work:
She’s a very talented girl, as you can see from her paintings below:
After she was done signing her artwork this morning, Mouse headed over to the Grandstand side of the racetrack to greet fans at Kids and Family day. To properly meet her public, Mouse is washed and braided to look her best. Her handler, Elizabeth Swarzman, does a great job taking care of her.
Once she’s primped and ready to go, Mouse gets to hang out with all of the children at Tampa Bay Downs enjoying a day at the track with their families.
This little guy was particularly enthralled with Mouse; it’s so great to see these kids actually engage with a horse when they’re at the track, and Mouse is a great ambassador to the sport’s youngest fans.
While Mouse may be the cutest attraction on Kids and Family Day, she’s by no means the only one. Tampa Bay Downs offers free admission, pony rides, games, bouncy castles, music and of course racing to one and all who come for an afternoon in the track’s Backyard area. Plus, anyone can bring their own food and beverages, so it’s a super cost-efficient and fun way to spend an afternoon.
Lots of racetracks now offer similar programs and events geared towards kids and families. I encourage you to find your local track and ask them if they have any days that are particularly good for bringing the kids out.
Well, I have a pretty decent farmer’s tan now and it’s almost time for me to get back on a plane and head to the frigid North, so thanks for stopping by and I’ll be back soon with my next Diary. I wish you wonderful racing luck in the meantime and hope to see you in the winner’s circle! Until then, here are a few more photos of the action out of Tampa Bay Downs to get you through the end of the weekend.