Meet Your Sunrise at Old Hilltop Tour Guides
Join Pimlico’s Sunrise Tour Guides during Preakness week!
Tours run from 6 a.m. ’til 9 a.m. on Tuesday through Friday during Preakness week.
(first appeared in the May 2018 issue of The Equiery)
Bet Bridges is a trainer and exercise rider based out of Monkton. She specializes in training Thoroughbreds for the track, as well as for show jumping and foxhunting. She founded the Bridges Equestrian Team for young riders in 2014 and enjoys transitioning retiring racehorses to the show ring. Bet is a 2015 graduate of Towson University with a degree in Functional Biology of Animals and also volunteers at Ladew Topiary Gardens.
Jenn Miller grew up in the show world and started her equestrian career there. She first took a job at the track to make some extra money while starting her own show horse training business. After a couple of weeks of galloping horses and working them out of the gate, Jenn was hooked. Jenn became a jockey and rode for about a year before sustaining a traumatic brain injury from a fall during a race. She was nominated for an Eclipse Award as Apprentice Jockey and finished third. Despite her injury, Jenn looks forward to getting back into the saddle as a jockey in the near future.
Bird Mobberley grew up on the backs of Thoroughbreds while riding for her mother, the late trainer Gretchen Mobberley. Bird started galloping horses at the track as soon as she was old enough to get her license. She also has years of show and foxhunting experience and loves the work ethic of the Thoroughbred.
(first appeared in the May 2017 issue of The Equiery)
Fran Burns is the head of the Sunrise Tour guides. Her passion is her off-the-track Thoroughbreds: Ineluctability (aka Ben), Garcon D’or and her current show horse Dustin’s Dreamer. Fran grew up riding hunters as a child and owns a small horse boarding operation, Boxwood Farm, in Monkton. In her spare time, she works at Canter for the Cause at Pimlico Race Course and is a huge supporter of Maryland Aftercare for Thoroughbreds. She volunteers with MidAtlantic Horse Rescue, a Maryland-based 501c3 non-profit Thoroughbred rescue and aftercare organization. Fran said, “I love teaching non-horse people (especially kids) about the horse connection, Maryland racing and aftercare!”
Dr. Erica Gaertner started riding at the age of four and loved everything horse when she was little, including going to Pimlico and watching the races. In high school, Erica became interested in steeplechasing and rode in that sport off and on for 15 years. She also competed in hunter/jumper shows, mostly with off-the-track Thoroughbreds. Erica attended medical school and is now a resident physician, but continues to gallop horses for trainers Billy Meister and Jonathan Sheppard whenever she has a day off. Erica says she enjoys being a tour guide, “because it is a way for me to stay connected with the horse community and get other people involved. It is great to be able to show people some of the lesser-known behind-the-scenes aspects of horse racing. It’s very fulfilling to promote a sport that is a huge part of my life.”
Anita Slebzak grew up in Anne Arundel County, crazy about horses, but never able to have one as a kid. She bought her first horse, a Standardbred mare who was too hot for the hack line at the local stable, when she was 19. They got along fabulously. Anita started working on the track a year later as a hot walker for Richard Dutrow, Sr., and eventually became a groom. In addition to Dutrow, she has worked for both of the Delps, Dean Gaudet, and some lesser-known but familiar trainers on the Maryland circuit. This wide variety of trainers gave her exposure to different schools of thought on training and horse care. Anita went on to breed and own a racehorse of her own, unsuccessful on the track but sold as a hunter/jumper. Anita left the track and worked for Ann Merryman for a few years, but the physical labor was too taxing, so she segued into office work at the local small animal vet hospital. She said, “I like being a tour guide as it gives me the opportunity to share my experience and passion for racing and horses with people who haven’t had much exposure to horse racing. And I love being able to catch sight of some of the top horses in the country as they train in the morning in preparation for the Preakness, or one of the other big races Pimlico presents during Preakness week.”
Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Bobby Lillis found work at the racetrack in 1969 and has worked at almost every track on the East Coast for the last 48 years. Horse racing is the only life he has known. “It is a place with countless career opportunities, a place where the American Dream is still very much alive. For me, it is as a jockey and horse owner.” Bobby said. For the last 20 years, Bobby has been the Benefits Director and an advocate for backstretch workers facing hardships, with the help of funding from the Maryland Horsemen’s Assistance Foundation and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. He added, “Sunrise Tours allows us to teach the general public the many joys of working with horses and understanding their passionate characters.”
Tom Strauss is a farrier by profession and a lifelong horseracing fan. Early in his life he knew he wanted to be involved with Thoroughbreds and racing and one of his earliest jobs was managing the broodmares at Briardale Farm in New Jersey. After leaving Briardale, Tom went to farrier school and then apprenticed with a well-known farrier in NJ before starting his own business. There he met his wife Bev (also a tour guide) while she was galloping a Thoroughbred for a mutual friend. They bought their first racehorse together, a yearling, and owned and trained a small stable until the birth of their first son. After a break from racing to raise a family, Bev and Tom now have two young horses ready to start their racing careers. Tom enjoys sharing his passion for Thoroughbreds with newcomers to the track, and being up close and personal with horses on the backside.
Katherine Powder has been involved with horses, primarily Thoroughbreds, for over 30 years. Although originally from Maryland, Katherine and her husband now own and operate a small Thoroughbred breeding/racing stable in southern York County, Pennsylvania. She trail rides, has foxhunted, and retrains former racehorses. Katherine was an equine veterinary assistant for many years. She said, “I really enjoy how the adults and children who come to Pimlico for Sunrise Tours are so thrilled with the experience. It is truly a rare treat for people to get a behind-the-scenes view and learn about horses, racing, and the history of Pimlico.”
Although this is Elizabeth Scully’s first year as a guide for the Sunrise Tours, she has been the lead member of the Preakness team for the past five years as a representative of Off- the-Track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs). Elizabeth, a junior at Maryvale Prep, has been working with her own OTTB since 2013. She foxhunts, shows, and rides in steeplechase races with her mare Girlsruletheworld. “We are excited to have Elizabeth as a guide this year!” said Fran Burns.
Posey Obrecht has been around horses for as long as she can remember. She grew up foxhunting, competing in hunter/jumpers on the “A” circuit and playing polo. Polo is Posey’s sport of choice these days; she has won two National Championships and was the Women’s College Player of the Year her senior year at the University of Kentucky. During college, she worked at Fasig Tipton and also with Georganne Hale at Pimlico. Posey has been back to the track every year since college because as she loves the Preakness and Pimlico so much! Currently, Posey is teaching polo and working for the United States Polo Association.
Bev Strauss grew up riding Thoroughbreds in New Jersey. A Graduate A in Pony Club, she has competed in a wide variety of horse sports. She attended the University of Virginia and Rutgers Graduate School of Management, then managed a racing and breeding farm in NJ where she met her husband Tom (also a tour guide). Their mutual love of racing led Bev to starting her own business breaking and training Thoroughbreds. In 2002, Bev and her friend Ginny Suarez co-founded MidAtlantic Horse Rescue with three horses and a rented three-acre field. MAHR is now home to over 35 Thoroughbreds, and is nationally known and fully accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. MAHR works closely with Maryland racing to provide quality aftercare for all Thoroughbreds when their racing careers are over. Bev loves being at the track and interacting with racing fans who share her enthusiasm for the horses and the sport.
Don Miller started working at the racetrack at age 15 and still loves it. He rode as a jockey for six years in Maryland, Florida and Kentucky. “I am lucky to do what I truly love,” he said, going on to describe racing as “a great game.” Don also really enjoys teaching, saying “people what it is all about.” Don’s son, Don, won the 1983 Preakness aboard the Maryland-bred Deputed Testimony.
Once upon a time, Fran Scully dreamed of being a flat track jockey and she prayed she would be small. Fast forward to today: Fran is the shortest member of her family, but she is now in charge of historic projects and garden design at Ladew Topiary Gardens just outside Baltimore. Her connection to the horse industry is through her daughter Elizabeth, who started in the show world, discovered foxhunting and steeplechasing, and now has her own off-the-track Thoroughbred. At Pimlico, Fran can be seen at the Sunrise Tour check-in table matching spectators with tour guides.
Cindy Merrill, daughter of fellow tour guide Don Miller, was born into a racetrack family. Her dad was a jockey and a trainer, her brother rode in races and she was also a jockey. Cindy won 13 races in two years before a two-year-old she was riding at Timonium decided to jump the inside rail out of the gate. “She made the jump successfully. I did not,” Cindy explained. After getting a helicopter ride to the nearby shock trauma center, where she spent ten days, Cindy had to stop riding. She decided to spend the down time having her first child. Many years later, Cindy rode in a few more races before retiring. She has three children, worked for International Sound filming the races every day for 18 years, and now helps families by protecting them with mortgage and life insurance.
Wendy Chapin Albert has been a passionate horse and pony lover all her life, and grew up in Ruxton where there were many backyard ponies. If her parents did not know where she was all they had to do was call the neighbors with horses. Christmas 1972 was very special for Wendy as she received a pony named Tangerine. “She taught me so much! We enjoyed showing, foxhunting with the Green Spring Valley Hounds, Pony Club and eventing,” she remarked. While at Sweet Briar College, Wendy rode on the IHSA team and loved hunting in the Charlottesville area. Her husband Tolly Albert is a Thoroughbred trainer as was his father, Talbot J. Albert, III, so racing became a part of Wendy’s life when she married into the Albert family. “It is very special to be a part of the backside environment at Pimlico and Laurel racetracks,” she said. “From 2005 to 2008, we stabled our Thoroughbreds at Pimlico. Tolly was the trainer, I was a hot walker and my sister in-law worked, too. The memories of being at Pimlico daily are very special ones.” Wendy and Tolly included their daughters in the racing experience and took them to the Preakness. “Together, we know and understand the excitement, the patience, the tears, the long hours and the genuine thrill of horse racing. Just standing in a horse’s stall and placing your face on his neck and breathing is one of the most satisfying feelings on earth,” she added.
Denise Carnes’ love for horses stems from her love of all animals. Her parents took her to Pimlico and Timonium for the horse races when she was young and she loved to watch the horses. “My Dad, being an avid horseracing fan, told me the stories of the great horses of the past, and we enjoyed racing events when I was growing up,” she explained. Her love for horses was passed on to her daughter, who took it a step further and showed horses in hunter/jumper competitions. “We also loved to go to the major events such as Preakness, Belmont, Breeders Cup and even the Kentucky Derby,” she added. “I love being a Sunrise Tour guide because it brings back wonderful memories for me. I also love passing on the history of Pimlico and the tradition of Maryland horse racing to new fans who come to the Sunrise tours.”
Along with her family, Donna Sullivan owns Fairfield Farm in Jarrettsville where their homebred show horses participate in many competitions in the Tri-state area. She also breeds Pembroke Welsh Corgies. Donna really loves Maryland horse racing and enjoys the tours as a way of giving back and helping others appreciate the sport. Donna teaches school part time and can be found at Country Life Farm during foaling season.
©The Equiery 2017