EDITOR'S NOTE: Each year, The Sentinel-Record presents a series of articles highlighting the unique occupations surrounding the sport of thoroughbred racing in Hot Springs and the individuals who make the live meet a success.
Nancy Holthus, racing analyst for Oaklawn Park and a Hot Springs native, grew up in a racing family and since a young age the sport has been her livelihood.
"My family was already retired from the sport so I grew up hearing the stories and getting to live vicariously through them," she said. "But hearing enough of the stories made me want to kind of pursue that myself.
"I was kind of told 'It would be great if you would pursue another path,' but being told that and being a little bit stubborn, like my family, I ended up going this direction and it turned out to be the best decision ever."
Holthus said she started at Oaklawn "literally like everybody else -- walking hots and making left-hand turns," before getting her first racing official job at 19 years old at Birmingham Race Course in Birmingham, Ala.
"I worked in the racing office in the morning -- they had night racing -- and would take entries, help with the program, and would come back at night and was a placing judge. That was a very fun summer.
"A lot of this sport is who you know and I was able to get that connection through a man who is no longer with us, but that was able to get my foot in the door and work my way up the ranks. I knew I loved working with the horses, but I knew the racing office and the front side, as they called it, would be kind of my forte."
Her days as a racing analyst are a little different, starting early by studying film and charts to prepare for 'Oaklawn Today' -- a pre-race handicapping show she hosts every race day -- and her live coverage from the paddock area.
"Typically, for me, there's roughly about three hours of prep that goes into that," she said. "It's reading charts from those horses that are running. It's watching film. So even though it's a 30-minute show, there's about three hours of prep. It may be over in a quick half-hour, but for myself, there's a lot that goes into it so hopefully, I can give the fans a few winners.
"But it's a lot of studying, a lot of homework, a lot of handicapping and it's also doing my prep for the paddock races, as well. It's kind of a two birds with one stone type scenario. Getting ready for that and also, I will pick up a phone and call a trainer and see 'Hey, this horse had this scenario happen last time. How did he come out of it?' And that type of thing so I will try to get that inside scoop every now and again. And obviously, watch the races during the day. So visit with horsemen and once the races finish out for a couple of days, kind of start that process all over again."
One aspect that has become one of her favorites at Oaklawn is 'Dawn at Oaklawn,' which gives fans of racing a look into what all it takes to make race day happen.
"It's kind of become my baby, so to speak, and that will start Feb. 16," she said. "It's something that I've really, really developed a passion for because I always tell people I love what goes on during the races, but a lot of fans don't realize that during the races, there might be 12 horses competing on the track every half-hour, but during training there's several hundred horses on the track at one time so it's a completely different aspect of the sport and where horses get to really get better during their careers.
"So, fans really get to come out and get that hands-on feel almost to get to see horses doing a lot of different variants of training. They get to see the exercise riders, the trainers, the jockeys, the pony people, and kind of a really behind-the-scenes look. I'm giving a play-by-play, if you will, of what's going on and then during the break we have wonderful guests that join me. We've had hall of fame jockeys, hall of fame trainers and going to do some new things this year that I've got in store. Don't want to give anything away, but we might have some four-legged guests this year."
Holthus said when it comes to racing, there's a lot that fans and those unfamiliar with the sport might not understand.
"It looks so glamorous all these people bringing these majestic equine athletes over, but it really is the hardworking guys and gals at the barn that put in blood, sweat and tears seven days a week," she said. "They're there at the barn at 5 in the morning and are there until the horses eat in the early evening. That, to me, is the true heroes of the sport -- the folks checking temps, checking ankles in the morning. With my husband training horses, that's our livelihood. Our employees really have become our family. They travel with us from meet to meet. Our success is their success, and vice versa. It really has become one big family."
Racing has taken Holthus "literally coast to coast -- from Delmar to Saratoga and everywhere in between," doing everything from hot walking to broadcast.
Holthus recently came across a photograph of her grandfather at Buelah Park in 1926 that paints a picture of just how far back her family's history in racing goes.
"Both my dad and grandfather were jockeys and trainers," she said. "My dad actually met my mom here at Oaklawn. They dated the race meet and he proposed to her here. My husband and I met here at Oaklawn even though we are both from Hot Springs, so Oaklawn does have a real special meaning.
"A lot of history, my grandparents, my parents -- racing put food on our tables, and now my husband and I. I owe a lot to this sport."
Holthus said she's grateful for all Oaklawn has done for her and that it takes everyone working together to make for a successful meet.
"I'm truly grateful to be part of the Oaklawn team and everybody, even though they're stabled at Oaklawn, everybody from the hot walkers to the upper management, they all play an integral role of being a part of Oaklawn," she said.
Local on 02/22/2019
Print Headline: FAMILY HISTORY: Racing analyst has long history in the sport