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Though Hugh Alan Drexler was born in Massachusetts, his family is deeply rooted in Puerto Rico's thoroughbred racing scene. Around the time his father lost his bug allowance as a jockey, the family relocated to Massachusetts. Due to his frequent family visits back to Puerto Rico, Hugh is an English-Spanish bilingual who appreciates all aspects of racing and has recently dedicated himself to helping improve the sport that he loves.
Growing up the son of a race rider, Hugh had plenty of experience around the track before he enrolled in the Race Track Industry Program. After starting out bagging hot dogs on quarter day at Turf Paradise, Hugh quickly got promoted to managing the warehouse for the food and beverage department. From there, he had many responsibilities at the track including mutuel teller, tote tech and operator, as well as servicing OTBs. At one point, he even owned and trained a string of horses.
During his enrollment in the University of Arizona's Race Track Industry Program, he was excited to learn about the PRISE internship offered at Rillito Park. The internship allowed Hugh to fully immerse himself into all aspects of Thoroughbred racing. The experiences at Rillito Park and Santa Anita Race Track have empowered him with the education and experience needed to take his career in racing to the next level.
In his words:
Growing up, what was your involvement and interest in horse racing?
I grew up around the racetrack. I would visit the backside with my father and watch him ride during morning workouts. When I would fly to Puerto Rico and visit family, my grandmother would take me to a nearby OTB to place wagers. We did this almost every live race day and is a tradition we continue to this day. As I got older my involvement in racing would alternate, but only from one side of the rail to the other.
What's something you've learned about the racing industry that surprised you?
Politics. I never realized how political involvement can alter the major rules and regulations that govern the Thoroughbred racing industry. Sometimes these governing boards have little to no actual experience or knowledge within racing yet are instrumental in creating the laws which racing participants must follow.
Talk about someone in the industry whose work you admire.
I normally don't like to answer this type of question for fear of appearing like an adulator, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Mike Weiss. Ask any student that has been a part of the RTIP or Rillito over the past 5 years, who the most memorable person was during their time there and they will likely all have the same answer. What Mike has done for the students is unparalleled. The ability to learn and gain experience through actual employment at the race track without prior experience is unattainable at any other track in the country.
Did you have a favorite horse or horse racing moment growing up that has stuck with you?
I have several that come to mind, but when pressured into choosing one moment I would have to go with Smarty Jones defeat in the 2004 Belmont Stakes. I remember having followed Smarty Jones once he burst on the triple crown scene by chasing down a “loose on the lead” Lion Heart in the Derby and demolishing the field in the Preakness. The buildup to the Belmont stakes was buzzing with anticipation that racing fans would witness the first Triple Crown in my lifetime. The Belmont stakes itself provided a gamut of emotions, from feeling that he is moving too soon around the far turn, to thinking at the head of the lane, “Just go on with it Stewie,” to inevitably feeling the agony of defeat as Birdstone passed a tiring Smarty Jones just before the wire. I remember feeling as if Stewart Elliot was my long-lost relative that day and that I was a part owner of Smarty Jones. That moment has definitely stuck with me.
What do you consider the most important problem facing the racing industry? How would you go about solving it?
Lack of education. For a long time, racing has been able to survive by being its own separate community without conforming to the outside world. This way of existing is no longer feasible given the new age of social media and societal pressures. Thoroughbred racing as a whole must simply do a better job of educating the public. Education regarding equine care, training and medication would be vital to helping the public better understand the level of attention that the equine athlete actually receives. Being proactive with education might eliminate the need to be reactive with racings sometimes negative image.
What do you hope to do in the industry after graduation?
I want to make positive changes and help to improve the sport and its image. I realize now that there is no simple “fix” to racing's problems and image but feel that everyone within the industry can make small changes and adjustments to help improve the sport. I expect to put in the time, hard work and effort, in order to position myself to make these positive changes. My path has yet to be mapped out, as I know that horse racing is anything but predictable.
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