by NYRA Press Office
There was a time when Annise Montplaisir, horse crazy as a young teenager, was part of racing’s “next generation.”
Today, as a graduate of North Dakota State University and the Godolphin Flying Start program with a range of experience in the racing business, Montplaisir has joined the industry’s current generation. Along the way, she’s picked up something exceedingly valuable: a passion for using the lessons learned to help newcomers find their path in the industry as well.
That path is Amplify Horse Racing, the non-profit she and Madison Scott co-founded in 2019 that promotes education, mentorship and career opportunities for youth and young adults interested in joining the Thoroughbred industry.
Starting with its information-packed web site [amplifyhorseracing.org], Amplify merges the online and face-to-face by working with people, established organizations and educational initiatives across the industry to help people find fulfilling careers in the business. And during the next several weeks, Montplaisir will be in one of horse racing’s citadels, Saratoga, to help young people connect to programs and mentors in a variety of ways.
“One of the greatest struggles for most newcomers to the sport is finding information about the industry, said Montplaisir, who serves as Amplify’s president. “It's pretty spread out. We have a lot of amazing educational and workforce training initiatives, but if you didn't grow up in the industry, it can be difficult to figure out how to get started.”
That’s where Amplify steps in with Montplaisir providing an overview of her organization and opportunities in the Thoroughbred industry on Wed., Aug. 10; Fri., Aug. 12; Wed., Aug.17; and Fri., Aug. 19 at Saratoga Race Course via all-day behind-the-scenes educational tours for teens and young adults, ages 15 to 25.
Now in its third year, the “Experience Saratoga” tour program is “a peak behind the curtain,” as a 2021 Saratoga participant described it, a way to help young people interested in the business to learn about the typical day of a racehorse. Participants will speak with trainers as well as New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) professionals from the frontside to the backstretch, some of whom have careers or skills the typical fan might not know about. They’ll take in morning training, visit the Hall of Fame and attend races as well.
“What’s so great about being in Saratoga is that it’s such a magical place,” says Montplaisir. “You can’t leave Saratoga without feeling enamored by racing. We want to make sure people in the program get to see and talk with racing people at all levels. Sometimes, all is takes for a door to open is a conversation with the right person. That can happen at Saratoga.”
It did for Montplaisir, who traces her passion for horses to seeing the film, Ruffian, as a young teen. Growing up near Fargo, North Dakota, she took a volunteer position at North Dakota Horse Park as the track’s ambassador, standing at the front gates with its mascot, a retired racehorse named Barracuda Boy.
From there, Montplaisir plunged into a little of everything at the horse park – “that’s the value of working as a small track,” she said – progressing from pony rider to galloping, assisting the director of media relations, working as the official clocker and even serving one summer as director of communications. “Whatever I wanted to get my hands on,” she said, “they threw me right in, and I learned.”
During two summer breaks from college, Montplaisir interned for the Saratoga Special newspaper and began making the connections that would build her career. After graduating from North Dakota State, where she double-majored in Management Communication and International Studies with a minor in Spanish, Montplaisir headed to Kentucky horse country. There, she interned with Fasig-Tipton, Keeneland, and Mill Ridge Farm before being accepted to the prestigious two-year Godolphin Flying Start program. Today, Montplaisir is back in Kentucky, based in Lexington as Education Coordinator for the Kentucky Equine Education Project.
Montplaisir considers herself fortunate to grow up near a track and to have made the kind of contacts to advance her career. She described Amplify as a resource or door opener for those without connections – “a more streamlined pathway to connect with programs and mentors.”
Past participants of the Saratoga tours agreed. “Amplify provided a first-class experience that was filled with educational moments from start to finish,” said Matthew Scull, who took a Saratoga tour in 2021. “There were peeks into the many different professions, and the unprecedented access facilitated the learning process tremendously. The tour shined a bright light on some of the greatest people, places and programs associated with the sport.”
For another 2021 Saratoga participant, Mary Rufo, “Amplify did a wonderful job with their tour program at Saratoga.”
“I’ve lived in the Saratoga area for nearly my entire life,” Rufo added. “These tours were a great way to get a more in-depth, behind-the-scenes look of how it all comes together for a day at the races.”
As part of this month’s program in Saratoga, Amplify is partnering with the Cornell Cooperative Extension service to offer tours to participants for their youth programs, including the Advanced Equine group and Animal Ambassadors. And from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 21, Amplify will be represented at the Saratoga County Horse Farm Tour hosted by CCE Equine, an adult-education program in the Capital Region. The drive-it-yourself tour event will include a list of participating farms across Saratoga County.
Considering that Amplify is dedicated to inclusion and breaking down the barriers, Montplaisir finds a lot of irony is racing’s moniker as the “Sport of Kings.”
“In horse racing, you aren’t restricted to sitting in the stands as an observer, she said. “You can work hands-on with the athletes – raise them from birth, send them to be ‘recruited’ to a racing team, train to become a professional, and watch them strengthen and improve through each race. That’s because Thoroughbred racing is not just a sport of kings; it’s a sport for everyone!”
Getting to know…Karen Wagner
This month’s edition of Getting To Know...visits with Karen Wagner, Vice President of Equine Advocates to discuss the history of caisson horses and what Sergeant York means to the sanctuary.
When Equine Advocates Rescue & Sanctuary (www.equineadvocates.org) agreed to retire Sergeant York, the former Military Working Horse who had the distinction of serving as a “Riderless Horse” in the U.S. Army’s Caisson Platoon, it got a bona fide celebrity. The striking jet black 31-year-old Standardbred gelding received worldwide attention in 2004 for following the casket in the funeral procession of former President Ronald Reagan. He has performed in thousands of funerals and other military ceremonies over the years, including in 2021 in the funeral for General Colin Powell at Arlington National Cemetery.
For a quarter-century, Sergeant served the U.S. with honor and helped to bring comfort to countless grieving military families. He arrived at the sanctuary on June 15.
First, some history. What is the background of caisson horses?
They’re the horses of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as The Old Guard, which dates to 1784. They’re best known for their role at funerals honoring U.S. Presidents, high-ranking military officials and those killed in combat.
Most of the caisson horses have a rider, with the exception of one, the Riderless Horse, who serves as a symbol of a fallen leader. The Riderless Horse is outfitted with stirrups carrying boots turned backward, symbolizing death’s reversal of all that was in life. The horses are either all white, or like Sergeant York, all black. All of them are very striking, and central to one of the most revered traditions in the military.
What makes Sergeant York especially well known?
If you’ve seen one of those processions, your eye goes to the Riderless Horse. The sight of the lone horse without a rider following the casket is one of the most unforgettable and dramatic parts of the ceremony.
Sergeant York and Black Jack, the Riderless Horse at the funeral of former President Kennedy in 1963, are the two most famous and beloved Caisson Horses of all time.
What’s his background?
Before he was added to the platoon, Sergeant York raced under the name of Allaboard Jules, winning five of 23 races at Freehold Raceway and Yonkers Raceway from 1994 to 1996.
In 1997, thanks to horsewoman Marie Dobrisky and her son Frank, who was a member of the Caisson Platoon, at the time, he was donated to the U.S. Army for military service. He was renamed Sergeant York in honor of Alvin York, a Medal of Honor recipient in World War I, whose life was immortalized in the 1941 film of the same name. Gary Cooper played Sergeant York and won the Academy Award for Best Actor for the part.
What made Sergeant York a caisson horse?
Just look at him. He is unflappable. He is absolutely stunning and an extremely elegant horse. And he has the presence and calm demeanor that made him perfect for the role. Horses on the track are trained to cope with the crowd noise and all the distractions. Sergeant York has that, and as a caisson horse, demonstrated that he could deal with noise from military funerals like 21-gun salutes, trumpets and cannons, etc.
Sergeant York is the second Military Working Horse to be retired here at Equine Advocates. In January 2021, we welcomed Tyler, who had served as a caisson horse for nine years. Tyler’s job was different in that he always had a rider on his back and appeared in front of the caskets, helping to lead the funeral processions with the other horses, whereas Sergeant York would always follow the processions without a rider.
How is Sergeant York adjusting to retirement?
Really well! He arrived at our sanctuary after having a physical exam at Cornell University Hospital for Animals. This new stage of his life will be quieter than his previous role. He seems happy – and we’re working to match him up with a buddy.
We thrilled he’s here, and so are a lot of local veterans. We take pride in providing permanent retirement homes for Military Working Horses as a way of thanking them for their years of faithful service to the country. Both Tyler and Sergeant York will help educate people about the lives of Military Working Horses. And we look forward to Sergeant York’s many admirers coming to see him.
In the Community…
CDPHP Hometown Heroes:
Fans can submit nominations for the Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan, Inc. (CDPHP) Hometown Heroes program through 11:59 p.m. on Friday, August 5. Hometown Heroes are individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to improving the quality of life for residents in their communities. Nominations may be submitted at CDPHP.com/hero. Heroes will be recognized at Saratoga Race Course on Friday, August 26.
TAA to be featured Whitney Weekend at Saratoga Race Course
NYRA will host the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) at the Community Outreach Booth on Whitney Day, Saturday, August 6, at Saratoga Race Course.
The TAA accredits, inspects and awards grants to approved aftercare organizations to retrain, retire and rehome thoroughbreds using industry-wide funding. Since 2012, the TAA has granted more than $24.5 million to accredited aftercare organizations in support of more than 13,700 thoroughbreds.
To learn more about the TAA, visit ThoroughbredAftercare.org.
A helping hand…
Casamigos for Jocks and Horses fundraiser for Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund to be held on August 5
The Adelphi Hotel on Broadway in Saratoga Springs will host the Casamigos for Jocks and Horses on Tuesday, August 5 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to raise money for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF) and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF). Tickets are $25 and include a signature drink and hors d’oeuvres.
Casamigos Tequila has donated a limited-edition bottle of tequila signed by the Saratoga Race Course jockey colony that is available in addition to a signature drink and hors d’oeuvres for $175. All proceeds will go directly to PDJF and TRF. For more information, visit https://theadelphihotel.com/event/casamigos/.