The following conversation took place just prior to the announcement Omaha Beach was scratched from the Kentucky Derby due to an entrapped epiglottis.
Thank You A. E. Sabo’ for the artwork!
By Kate Richards
There is nothing average about the average work routine of Fox Hill Farm’s Victoria Keith.
Coupled with her management of the FHF stable of racehorses, Victoria is now Executive Director of NTWO, the amalgam for National Thoroughbred Welfare Organization, co-founded with her business partner, Fox Hill founder and principle, Rick Porter. From the track where the current runners are working, to the farm location of NTWO rescues being rehabilitated, to her desk working on the farm books, Keith moves as if mimicking Fox Hill’s candidate for the 2019 Derby, OMAHA BEACH: getting the job done and vying for the finish line. Moreover, much like Omaha, Keith thrives in a polyglot of conditions. “It’s a good busy” she said. Cell phone in hand, she orchestrates solutions, manages operations and considers the input from trainers, vets, and the rescue advocates that blow up her phone.
It was in her capacity of digital designer that Victoria moved to Lexington in 2002 and was engaged by Fasig-Tipton to develop their website. From those contacts and her growing reputation, she met Rick Porter, and they forged a business partnership that has produced top American stakes winners such as Songbird, Normandy Invasion, Havre De Grace, Battle of Midway, Hard Spun and Eight Belles.
Keith’s job is layered with the expected and then the unforeseen. It is also characteristic of the industry, itself. Racing and then, Keith’s other advocacy, rehabilitation with NTWO has a way of turning circumstance, even the sad ones, into opportunity. An opportunity of happenstance was the discovery of a bay yearling at the Fasig-Tipton sale by trainer and advisor, Larry Jones that led Rick to his 2019 Derby favorite, OMAHA BEACH. Larry had been the trainer of the ill-fated Eight Belles and continued to advise the Fox Hill principle past that tragedy. “It is an exciting time for all of us, particularly Larry and Rick” she said. “Omaha is an intelligent, kind horse with a tremendous turn of foot…we have a great trainer in Richard Mandella and a good barn team working with him and are extremely blessed to have him reach Louisville in good form” she said. “Rick is particularly pleased that Mike Smith has chosen Omaha as his Derby horse.”
Concerns about a quarter crack caused some chatter on social media, yet Keith reports that it is superficial and non- threatening. “Omaha’s well-being is the number one consideration as there is always another big race. If there were any doubt, we would scratch.”
Ironically, being a woman in what is considered a male-dominated industry, Victoria Keith does not consider herself a feminist, listing ability as the criteria for racing involvement. She did allow that professional women were habitual problem solvers. Regarding Derby stress, she replied, it came with the nature of this iconic race.
“We are in the mode of looking forward to Saturday…all you can do is pray for a safe trip because the preparation is done” she added. The safe trip element was an acknowledged concern, as Porter is known for his objection to a twenty-horse field.
It was those blessings and FHF’s racing success that gave Keith and Porter pause when thinking about those horses that struggle and are tossed aside, then trucked in unsavory conditions to a merciless end in slaughterhouses. Their proximity to the issues facing thoroughbred racing conjured a program that was tabled due to Rick’s illness.
“We saw the problem and felt strongly that owners had a lifetime responsibility for horses on the track and those coming off the track.” Victoria said. “With the social media explosion being what it is, shutting down the bailing game in Louisiana became our first project.”
She continued “Their emotional blackmailing scammed so many kind-hearted people for dollars…the reality was that freshly raced horses and yearlings were corralled into filthy and disease infested pens with fake dates proclaimed as their slaughter ship…once bailed and adopted, they were in worse shape and some just went missing from this so-called quarantine.” The owner of the quarantined property, Hal Parker, has since been indicted on nine counts of animal abuse among other charges. Many horse carcasses were discovered on Parker’s property. The Keith and Porter organization releases its financials as a regular part of their social media presence, serving two purposes, transparency and exampling their needs for operation.
“Tracks have the authority to penalize owners that allow horse dumping to happen. It has to be policed.” Keith said. “More funds are needed for aftercare as well. I am hoping that NBC has the foresight to include the proactive work in this critical need area during their coverage of the Oaks and the Derby…the welfare of the horses has to come first.”
Looking forward to D-Day Plus 75 remembrances from WWII, Victoria Keith, noted that Rick Porter is supportive of veterans, particularly those having served in the second World War. Following the lead of their similarly-named Normandy Invasion, Rick had saved the name of the landing site for a particular horse. The D-Day invasion, for the American forces, began on Omaha Beach in the French province of Normandy and is considered a critical turning point for the Allies. It was bloody, grueling and has remained a historical watermark of American courage.
Omaha Beach had everything going for him right from the start with a famous name and committed connections headed up by Hall of Fame Trainer Richard Mandella. This weekend, the dreams that were conjured at the first site of that yearling could produce the Derby victory that Fox Hill Farm, Mandella and Jones have longed for, but never accomplished.
“Omaha’s trainer, Richard Mandella, likes to say that every yearling going through the sales ring looks like a Derby horse. Our colt’s pedigree suggested classic because of War Front. What we started hearing was that he was smart and liked his job.” said Keith. “That told me a lot because, to do well, you gotta love the work.”
Those early OMAHA BEACH reports were music to Victoria Keith’s ears. “When a racehorse loves the work, they become winners.” Saturday will tell if this music morphs into a victory dance.
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