Photos by Keni Parks
While Keeneland may lay claim to being Lexington’s most recognizable racetrack, The Red Mile is known the world over as one of the most lauded racetracks in Standardbred racing. Founded in 1875, The Red Mile is not only the oldest race track in Lexington, but is the second oldest harness racing track in the world.
An old dog can still learn a few new tricks, and in the past several years The Red Mile has done nothing short of re-invent itself. Today’s Red Mile has a sleek new exterior, a new 1,000-terminal strong instant racing facility and an upgraded grandstand area that plays home to one of the area’s most popular off-track betting sites.
This isn’t your grandfather’s Red Mile Racetrack.
On the forefront of many of the track’s innovative new promotions and initiatives is Mary Catherine White, who oversees the track’s special events and marketing.
Creating Memorable Experiences
A native of Houston, TX, White’s first introductions to the Kentucky came on family trips each year to visit her aunt and uncle, who own Mt. Brilliant Farm, a combination Thoroughbred and polo farm located along Russell Cave Road. She loved the excitement of the races and polo matches that she attended and was taken with the beauty of the rolling pastures and winding country roads that lay just beyond the Lexington city limits.
After earning her graduate degree in Public Health from Tulane University (where she also earned her undergraduate degree) in 2009, White moved back to Houston and began working in her field of study for the city. By 2012, however, she was looking for a change of pace, and on a visit to the Bluegrass she stumbled upon an idea.
“I’d come for a visit in 2012 and it was like I fell in love with the area all over again,” she said.
“My Uncle Greg suggested I move up here to work on the farm and see how I liked it. I ended up working there for two-and-a-half years and then found the opportunity at The Red Mile.”
While White’s background may not be in Standardbred racing, she took to the job, immediately immersing herself in the harness racing industry and learning all she could about the history and culture of the sport.
White’s position at The Red Mile has her overseeing events and promotions for not only the track’s harness racing meets, but also for the instant racing and off-track betting facilities, which were created as part of the $42 million renovation and expansion bankrolled in a joint-effort by The Red Mile and Keeneland.
The Red Mile is known for its family-friendly atmosphere, and that’s due in large part to keeping patrons engaged between races. From wiener dog races to “The Running of the Bull Dogs,” White coordinates race day entertainment that she says is as hysterical to watch as it is fun to plan. She also assists resident handicapper Gabe Prewitt in putting together the track’s Bets and Brews series, a handicapping seminar and beer tasting event put on in partnership with Country Boy Brewing that includes the opportunity to play in a “beginners only” handicapping tournament.
“I’d been working on getting a flat track motorcycle racing event here since my first day on the job. We finally made it happen in June and it was a huge draw for people who had never seen the track and facilities. It was so exciting to have people come up to me and say, ‘wow – I never knew about this place. It’s so nice!’” she said. “We’re constantly trying to bring in more unique events – music, sporting events, you name it – and keep building our reputation as an entertainment destination. With live racing, instant racing, live events and more, it feels like my job is non-stop, but I enjoy every single hat that I wear.”
From Riding Helmets to Derby Hats
While working at Mt. Brilliant, White got the opportunity to not only learn to ride, but to try her hand at playing polo.
“Polo is my jam! It’s super-competitive and fast-paced. I’m lucky enough to have cousins with beautiful horses, so when I worked at Mt. Brilliant I’d get up early in the morning and ride out with the grooms. It helped me to learn how to ride and built up my muscles,” said White. “When I got confident enough in the saddle, they started teaching me to “stick and ball,” which is basically learning to control the horse, the polo mallet and the ball all at the same time, and eventually I learned to play.”
In recently years White took an entrepreneurial foray into the fashion world as well, creating Rent the Races with two of her friends. The online business allows customers to rent hats and fascinators for race days and other events.
“While I miss my family in Houston, Lexington is where I have set down my roots,” said White. “I don’t see myself going anywhere anytime soon.”•