Monday, April 26, 2010

An Arlington Opening Day Promise Kept in Meghan’s Memory

Talk about tugging at the heartstrings! What about the CBS “Undercover Boss” show which profiled Arlington’s perennially popular jockey valet Kenny Rice as he dealt with the tragic death of his 20-year-old daughter Meghan less than six months earlier?

Rice, a fixture at Arlington each summer season, was given the challenging assignment of teaching Churchill Downs Incorporated chief operating officer Bill Carstanjen how to keep up with the fast-paced duties of a valet on a race day at Arlington. Carstanjen – as the undercover boss – had a lot to learn in a very short time and actually performed quite adequately, but that was due in large part to the patience shown by Rice during the learning process.

However, during the course of the Rice segment, the subject of the loss of his daughter Meghan the previous March due to a heart defect eventually surfaced

“She was going to be a jockey,” Rice explained to Carstanjen as he looked at Meghan’s picture on his clipboard, “but she’s my little angel in heaven, now. She used to love coming out here and watching the races. She was my heart and soul.”

Naturally, the emotions of the moment were not lost on Carstanjen.

“I had been looking at that photo all day,” the executive admitted later, “but I was so intent on studying what was on the clipboard I didn’t notice that photo also said ‘In Memoriam.’ I should have noticed.

“What I did learn (from the Undercover Boss experience) was how quick these (racing) people are to accept you into their world,” Carstanjen said. “You can learn a lot about yourself from others. As an executive, I’m used to looking at spreadsheets and things like that, but life also about human interaction.”

Toward the end of the Undercover Boss show, after Carstanjen had revealed his true identity to Rice and thanked him for showing him the duties of a valet, he also promised Rice that Arlington would run a race on this season’s opening day named in memory of his daughter.

“Wow,” Rice said at the time. “I’m so happy inside. They are going to recognize my daughter with a race named after her.”

Now, that promise has been become a reality. Thursday is the opening day of Arlington Park’s 2010 racing season, and the third event of the afternoon has been designated “The Meghan Samantha Rice Memorial Race.”

That’s going to be a really special day for me,” Rice said. “We’ll get to present the trophy and all my family and friends will be there, and that’s going to make me feel really good.”

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