This originally appeared on ThoroughbredTimes.com in 2010. I wanted to re-publish it not only because today would have been his 87th birthday but also because I named my son after him and want to share memories of his namesake with him (and his brother and sister) as they grow up and hopefully take many trips to the track with daddy. The picture below includes my grandfather in the winner’s circle at Thistledown. He’s on the far right in the bottom frame.
How can a day go by when I don’t think of him? After all, I do what I do because of what he did. My job, my hobby, and my passion for the Sport of Kings all came from him, a prince of a man who died too soon (but not before infecting me with the racing bug).
I don’t remember much about my first visit to a racetrack other than it was Thistledown, it was springtime, it was morning, and I was four years old. We didn’t even go to the races; we went to the stable area to visit the horses.
As I grew older, trips to the racetrack with Grandpa became more frequent. He would pull into the valet lot but park the car himself, which I always thought was odd once I was old enough to know what “valet” meant. The valet lot was the closest to the building, though, and I guess you’re afforded those kinds of luxuries when not only do you know everyone but they’re happy to see you too.
“You bring your bodyguard with you today, Dom?” somebody would always ask as I got out of the white Lincoln Town Car and ran around to my grandfather’s side. Even as I reached my teenage years that line never got old. I’d just look up at gramps and smile.
As much as I love the sport of horse racing, going to the track with him was never about the horses or the gambling. It was about spending time with one of the very few male role models in my life as well as the adventure of always meeting new people; many of these people would give me money—probably to get in good with my grandpa.
Of course, I grew to love horse racing more than anything (but not anyone), and while my mom and school taught me how to read words, it was my grandfather who taught me how to read past performances peppered with vocabulary lessons. There were the basics such as win, place, and show, of course, but to steal a line from Jeff Foxworthy, “You know you’re a racetrack brat when a wheel is for cars and perfectas” (the Steel Belt term for ‘exacta’ that both Northfield Park and Mountaineer used in my formative years).
Before landing at my current employer in Lexington, I did summer internships at Northfield Park in summer 1999 and at Thistledown in ’00 as well as some freelance work for Horseman & Fair World. I even got to write a couple Kentucky Derby columns and cover the Little Brown Jug for the Newark (Ohio) Advocate during my college years. Unfortunately, my grandfather died in spring 1999, so he was not around to share any of my horse racing endeavors with me.
I miss that man, but more than anything, I think I miss him for the people in my life who never met him. I miss him for my wife, I miss him for my children (his great-grandchildren), including my son Dominic for whom he is named. I miss him for all the new friends I’ve made who would have loved to have met him and spend a day at the races with him.
They can know him, though. Through my actions, they can know him. His kindness, his compassion, his love for children, his willingness to help anyone in need, and a host of other admirable traits are all things I can do better to help people see the Dominic Marchetti in me, even if they don’t know it.