Meet WPT's Newest Team Member: Nancy Ury
West Point Thoroughbreds: Welcome, Nancy! Take us through a typical “day in the life” of your West Point position.
Nancy Ury: As soon as the alarm goes off, I literally check e-mail on my phone. Some mornings I head out to the track for workers and to catch up with our trainers, Craig Dollase and John Sadler. Other days are filled with phone calls and e-mails with other West Point team members and reaching out to current and potential clients. Race days are always fun because it gives me a chance to catch up with clients in person, and of course we’re anticipating big things from our runners.
WPT: What’s your earliest recollection of the racetrack?
NU: I was maybe three or four years old, and I went out to Oaklawn Park with my grandfather and got to see the Clydesdales pull the starting gate. My dad and grandfather were both jockeys and trainers, but I didn’t really grow up with racing on a day-to-day level. By the time my older brother was in school my mom was tired of moving around and really wanted to settle down, so they picked Hot Springs, Arkansas, and my dad got a “real job” away from the track. So I didn’t really get to experience it the way I wanted, but I heard all the stories from everyone because racing was still a huge part of my family’s life.
WPT: What was your first job in racing?
Nancy Ury: Well, my dad said, ‘If you set foot on the track, I’ll disown you,’ but I grew up with a huge level of respect for the sport and as I heard about how much travel is involved, all the work involved, the highs and the lows, that just increased my curiosity and made me want to become that much more a part of it. So of course when I turned 18 I went out and got a job walking hots at Oaklawn. My dad wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but he figured it was an idea he’d better get used to!
WPT: Was he the most influential person in your career?
NU: Absolutely. I got into racing because of him, and he’s no longer in the business but it’s nice to be able to talk to him about something he still obviously has a passion for. Even 70-something years later, he’s an amazing sounding board. His first choice was obviously not for his daughter to be walking hots on the backside, but whatever I did he chose to support me and he’s so proud of me and that means the world.
WPT: How long did your hotwalking adventures last?
NU: Just a year. It was a good experience – I’d braid and pull manes for extra money, run horses in the afternoon for people who were shipping in – I got to try different levels of racing. When I was walking hots I met Terry Brennan, and his brother Pat Brennan was working in the racing office. In 1995 I told him I’d like to work at that level, and he made a couple calls and next thing you know I was packing up my car and driving to Birmingham, Alabama at the age of 19 to become a racing official. My parents thought I was completely nuts.
WPT: And that job entailed?
NU: I’d take entries in the mornings and worked as a placing judge during the races. It was night racing and they ran thoroughbreds, quarter horses, and greyhounds on a card that sometimes had up to 19 races, so that made for a long evening – but it built such good experience and it was fun. When you’re 19 you don’t really know what you should be worried about, so I’d call it one of the better summers of my life.
WPT: Too bad we all have to grow up! Tell us about a few of the other career steps that you took along the path to your current job.
NU: I came back after that summer and was going to school at the local college in Hot Springs. I was able to start meeting more people who were involved in racing in lots of different capacities, and my Dad was lifelong friends with Caton Bredar’s dad. Of course, Caton is married to Doug Bredar, who was the stakes coordinator at Hollywood Park at the time. I told Doug I was interested in making racing a career, and before long I was on my way out to Los Angeles, not really knowing any other people there. That was in 1996, and I was an entry clerk out there for several years at Hollywood and Del Mar. Then in the fall I’d go home to work at Oaklawn, and I got my foot in the door working in the test barn there from 1997 to 2002. I ran the Lasix program for six years, doing paperwork, catching pee, mucking stalls, the whole bit.
WPT: Interesting! Do you think racing fans and industry insiders view you as more of a “desk job” type?
NU: I think people affiliate me more with either the racing office or the stall job, and racing fans definitely affiliate me more with TVG, not so much with the backside or with hands-on experience. People don’t realize I can put bandages on, I can tack up a horse, I can do all that stuff. I’m certainly not afraid to get my hands dirty or step in some piles.
WPT: Most of our partners will probably recognize you from TVG. How did that gig come about?
NU: After I moved out to LA in 1998-99, I came back out for good in 2002 and was working at Hollywood Park regularly. I was rooming with Caton, who, at the time, was one of the main TVG figures. I’d done a little bit of TV in Chicago, co-hosting the replay show at Hawthorne, and TVG was looking for freelancers. That relationship has lasted for eight years now, and it’s been a great opportunity for me just to get myself out there. I’ve met so many amazing people in the industry through that position, and the amazing thing is that we all share the same interest in and passion for the sport. It’s been really fun.
WPT: The Del Mar season kicked off Wednesday, and you’re our go-to girl on the grounds. Tll us about your first year “where the turf meets the surf.”.
NU: That would have been 1998. I worked in the racing office and on the frontside – I’d help with owner accommodations on the frontside and entries in the office. I went back there in 2006 as the backside steward, and even when I wasn’t living down there for the meet, I’d go down numerous times to visit friends and just enjoy the races.
WPT: Any recommendations for the social crowd?
Nancy Ury: My favorite breakfast place, hands down, is Americana in old Del Mar. And you can never go wrong with The Brigantine for fish tacos and margaritas; it overlooks the track and it’s the perfect setting, kind of the go-to place after the races.
WPT: Del Mar or Saratoga? Which is better?
NU: There’s always the summer track battle over which is better. I think that depends on which track you’ve spent the majority of your time around. For me, I’ve always loved Del Mar because it’s just so fun to be out of Los Angeles and in that “turf meets the surf” sort of atmosphere.
WPT: What made you take the position with West Point?
NU: A few years ago I realized that moving from track to track was really getting old. Six months here, four months there – constantly moving takes a toll. So the goal was to find year-round employment in a position that would still be challenging and exciting to me, and that’s why the West Point job was appealing. Also, every time so far in life when I’ve set a professional goal for myself, I’ve achieved it. Every job I’ve accepted has been above and beyond my previous occupations. I never want to regret anything and say ‘I took a step back.’ I’ve always set my sights high and I’ve been very blessed.
WPT: What’s your favorite part about your new position with us?
NU: I really hadn’t dealt one-on-one with owners before, so that’s been a really good experience and opportunity. It’s been a great transition and I’ve been very thankful to all the partners who have given me a warm welcome. I also like the fact that I get to travel with this job. Awesome Gem has already taken me to Lone Star Park in Texas and Prairie Meadows in Iowa, and here we are down at Del Mar for the season.
WPT: Sounds like Awesome Gem has a special place in your heart.
NU: I’m a huge Awesome Gem fan, but then I was a Gem fan years before I joined the West Point team. He’s such an amazing shipper, it seems like he has enough miles to travel around the world two times. He’s a good, honest older horse who will never let you down, and he has such an amazing personality. I think he’s gotten to the point where he knows my voice, because he immediately sticks his head out of the stall looking for his peppermints whenever I come around. It’s nice to go back to the barn, developing those relationships.
WPT: Any other favorites?
NU: Craig Dollase has a filly who started first time out a couple weeks ago named Lady Fairbanks, and she’s become my little darling, I love on her every time I’m at the barn. John Sadler also has our amazing 3-year-old, Runflatout, and we still haven’t gotten to the bottom of him yet. We’re very fortunate to have to have such a nice string out here on the West Coast.
WPT: Everyone in the racing industry seems to be able to get on their “soapbox” on an industry issue or two. What’s yours?
NU: I really hope to see a general counsel, so to speak, just one governing body over medication, rules and regulations and racing law. Just because it’s difficult for horsemen when they go to different states there are different rules, and if you don’t make yourself aware of all the changes you put yourself at a huge risk. I know a lot of racetracks have their own association or house rules, but I cross my fingers that hopefully I would see uniformity one day in my lifetime.
I’m also a big proponent of getting people back out to the racetrack because now, thanks to technology, you don’t have to leave comfort of your own home in order to wager or watch the races. I think people should be able to park for free, get free admission, and receive a free program – anything to bring them in to a welcoming environment to introduce them to the sport.