Watching intently around the country will be dozens of racing-industry professionals who are alumni of Kids to the Cup, the organization McCaffery founded to expose young people to racing. Many have gone on to follow their dreams of working in the industry.
“She genuinely believed that giving young people access to the barns, the horsemen, and the inner workings of the sport would give us the courage and contacts to pursue our dreams, and I think she was spot on,” said California-based KTTC alum Emily Shields. “There’s no doubt that many jobs in the game are now filled by people that she helped guide, people who genuinely want to see the game thrive and grow and have fresh ideas on how to make that happen. She is still sorely missed.”
So I was thrilled when my mother found an organization called Kids to the Cup (KTTC), which took young racing fans to major races and behind the scenes on the backstretch. Finally, a people with whom I could share my love of Thoroughbreds! And KTTC didn’t disappoint. With this group of like-minded people, I traveled across the country to Breeders’ Cups. In particular, the 2002 rendition at Arlington Park and 2004 edition at Lone Star Park were highlights.
I also attended Triple Crown races, and, in the process, met some of my all-time heroes. Where else could I have met trainer Bob Baffert and had the opportunity to ask him why he put War Emblem’s 2002 Preakness Stakes trophy on his head in the winner’s circle? His reply, “Because I’m a damn fool!” was priceless.
It’s also thanks to KTTC that I met Blood-Horse writer Steve Haskin and former NBC racing analyst Charlsie Cantey. I took down their contact information; when I drew up an in-depth pedigree analysis of a 2004 Derby contender named Smarty Jones that showed the potential to get the mile-and-a-quarter distance, I sent it to them. Smarty came in first, and The Blood-Horse offered me, at age thirteen, my own digital column called “Teen Tracks.” The rest, as they say, is history.
“We brought them to Saratoga early on,” Sandy Straight said. “They belonged to some fan clubs online, they joined this program called Kids to the Cup. We went to the Breeders’ Cup. They just started hanging around at Saratoga, meeting the jockeys’ kids and the jockeys. Mike Smith, Jose Santos. It just started snowballing, and at the age of 13, we went and bought them an Equicizer. They sat constantly watching OTB and riding it. Before that they rode pillows tied together on the couch. They used to dress up like jockeys, weigh each other. It all just evolved.”
In 1999, McCaffery founded Kids to the Cup, a nonprofit, charitable organization dedicated to attracting, developing and educating racing fans ages 8 to 16 through programs that provide direct access to the sport’s major events and participants, including owners, trainers, jockeys and horses.
McCaffery started that organization after being contacted by a young fan who wanted to wish her luck with one of her horses. Kids to the Cup has since sent more than 1,200 youngsters to Breeders’ Cup and Triple Crown races.
“It was the president of an online horse club, a junior horse racing fan, basically,” John DeSantis, who worked with Kids to the Cup, once was quoted as saying. “It really spoke to Trudy. She realized that there is this whole untapped reserve of young fans, looking for a way into the sport, and Trudy recognized that instantly.”
But if you had to pin her down, McCaffery would point to a group called Kids to the Cup as her most satisfying accomplishment in horse racing.
Nothing gave McCaffery more joy than KTTC’s annual field trips for young people to the Breeders’ Cup, Triple Crown, and Santa Anita Derby, which included backstretch visits with the game’s top names. For her, there was no greater satisfaction than knowing the organization over the last six years touched the lives of more than 1,200 kids, ages 8-16, universally linked by a love of horse racing and access to the Internet. And, given the youth of the membership, McCaffery is inspired by the fact that there are more than a dozen former Cuppers at work in the racing industry, with several more attending industry programs at either the University of Arizona or the University of Louisville.
“We also have an alumni group because kids want to stay involved,” said executive director John DeSantis. “The best example of the success of this organization is that we have two kids at the University of Arizona in the equine program and two members at the University of Louisville in the equine program.
“All four started in Kids to the Cup five years ago. They were 14 years old then, now they’re 19. One of the two girls at the University of Arizona is from Washington, the other from New York, coasts apart, but they’re roommates at Arizona and they met on one of our trips through Kids to the Cup. They became friends and now they’re in college together.