The twelfth consecutive “Hats Off to the Horses: The Road to the Derby” fundraiser sponsored by MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS® for Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement in KY has kicked off its 2021 season with a very special hat up for bid that honors Afleet Accompli!
And this season we are especially delighted to have Gulfstream Park and New York Racing Association paddock reporter and host of America’s Day at the Races, Acacia Courtney joining our “Hats Off” team once again. Acacia has been modeling for our “Hats Off” auctions since 2017. This year we were so fortunate when she generously agreed to model all four of our hat auctions in two different Old Friends locations (Kentucky and New York) in support of the retired racehorses of Dream Chase Farm!
I interviewed Acacia back in 2017 and discovered that Acacia Courtney had worn many hats during her 23 years! A horse lover ever since she was a little girl, Acacia grew up around horses and trained in the hunter/jumper and dressage disciplines. She graduated from Fordham University with a major in Communications with a concentration in Journalism. She is also a dancer, trained specifically in ballet, jazz/musical theater, and ballroom dancing. In 2011 Acacia founded the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization Racing for Home, Inc. which is dedicated to retraining OTTBs for new careers after the racetrack. Acacia was Miss Connecticut from June 2014 to June 2015, and as a titleholder in the Miss America Organization she was an Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Acacia has worked for America’s Best Racing and HRN. She currently splits her year between winters at Gulfstream Park as the paddock reporter and on-air handicapper, and the remainder of the year with the New York Racing Association as a paddock reporter and host of the America’s Day at the Races shows on FOX Sports and MSG Networks.
I recently got the chance to interview Acacia for a second time following her photo shoot at Old Friends for the “Afleet Accompli” chapeau…
Acacia, welcome to my Hats and Horses blog!
We are thrilled to have you join our “Hats Off” team again this year for our 12th straight year with the “Hats Off to the Horses” Derby hat auction fundraiser for Old Friends. It seems like just yesterday when I was interviewing you for our 2017 “Hats Off” auction season, and I am so glad that I got the chance to let everyone know what you have been up to since then!
Sally: Are you still living in Florida? Back in 2017, you had been working as the On-Air Host/Analyst at Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino as well as on the Horse Racing Radio Network; are you still doing that or any other jobs related to horse racing?
Acacia: I am currently in Florida, back for my fifth winter with Gulfstream Park as the paddock reporter and on-air handicapper. While I no longer work for the Horse Racing Radio Network full-time, I remain close with the team there and enjoy getting to jump on from time-to-time on any projects or leading up to big race days. In addition to working at Gulfstream during the Championship Meet, I am now spending the rest of my year with the New York Racing Association, as a paddock reporter and host of the America’s Day at the Races shows on FOX Sports and MSG Networks, covering Saratoga, Belmont, and Aqueduct. I am very grateful for so many wonderful experiences!
Sally: In your many experiences as a racing analyst across the country, have there been any recent horses or racing moments that have especially inspired you?
Acacia : I think this year’s Preakness Stakes will always hold a special place in my heart. I usually cover the Preakness each year, but this year was the first time that this race completed the Triple Crown. We also saw history in another way, when Swiss Skydiver became just the sixth female to win the Preakness, and she and Authentic put on an epic stretch battle for us. It was the race I think every racing fan needed this year.
Sally: During this time of COVID, how has your work/life been affected?
Acacia: Like everyone, this year has been full of surprises! I am very grateful that I have been able to continue working throughout. When things first shut down back in March, I was at Gulfstream getting ready for the Florida Derby. That was the first big event I covered without spectators, and it was very surreal. While I was supposed to go back to New York immediately after that, racing up North had been suspended due to Covid-19, and I ended up staying at Gulfstream for two more months, when Belmont opened back up in early June. I feel very thankful that I was able to stay working at Gulfstream, which closed down just for one day during the entire pandemic, and it was also very special being part of bringing racing back to New York, where the Belmont Stakes was the first major sporting event in the state to take place since everything shut down. I take nothing for granted, and count my blessings each day.
Sally: Since the last time we spoke, Acacia, have you been involved in any beauty pageants, for Miss America or any others?
Acacia: I am retired from pageants, but will always be a supporter and will volunteer or help girls competing when I can.
Sally: Do you have any news for us about Racing for Home, Inc. that wonderful organization that you founded in 2011 which is dedicated to retraining OTTBs for new careers after the racetrack?
Acacia: Our organization, Racing for Home, Inc., was accredited in 2019 by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA), and this was a tremendous stepping stone for us and a long-term goal of mine.
Acacia: Running a nonprofit during Covid-19 has been especially challenging, and I’m very thankful to the TAA, which allocates funds to its accredited organizations each year, and did so earlier than expected to help in light of dealing with a pandemic. Horses still need to be cared for each day, and while it has been difficult at times, people have been so very generous and we have continued to grow and do the work that means so much to us.
Sally: Are you still dancing? Any special projects?
Acacia: Unfortunately all the studios are closed down right now, but I have taken dance class at home via zoom when I can! I think I kicked the wall a few times, but it was definitely good for the soul. I look forward to the day when I can take a class again.
Sally: This season we are honoring four very special Old Friends retirees with one-of-a-kind Derby chapeaux to support ALL the retired racehorses of Old Friends. How did the photo shoot with Afleet Accompli go?
Acacia: Afleet Accompli had only recently arrived at Old Friends, and he was very easy for his photo shoot. He’s clearly settled in beautifully at his new home, and was very professional!
Sally: I am sure that people are going to be inspired more than ever before this season by your support for Old Friends. Can you share with everyone why it is so important for us to support these retired T’bred athletes, and do you have any suggestions for how people can get involved?
Acacia: As someone who both works full-time in the racing industry, and is also involved in aftercare, I see all ends of the spectrum. Horses have truly given me the world, and brought me opportunities that I never would have imagined. I know so many stories of people who have been touched by these incredible animals. They give us amazing thrills on the racetrack, and I really feel it is our responsibility as an industry to ensure that they are cared for after their racing days are over. In addition, it’s my opinion that emphasis on aftercare is essential to creating a positive image of racing. We will never bring in new fans unless we continue to commit to our equine athletes. I applaud those who are industry stakeholders, fans of the sport, or just love horses, and have made a pledge to support aftercare. My work with retired Thoroughbreds is what I am most proud of!
Sally: Acacia, thanks again for helping us with our Twelfth Annual “Hats Off to the Horses” auction series with the “Afleet Accompli” chapeau. We are really fortunate to have you on board this year as our featured 2021 model for “Hats Off”!
And to my readers, please enjoy this photo gallery of the “Afleet Accompli” auction chapeau which includes images from the photo shoot with Acacia at Old Friends as well as several images of Afleet Accompli by photographer Rick Capone.
Thank you all for visiting us today at Hats and Horses!
About the “Afleet Accompli” Hat Auction:
The “Afleet Accompli” auction hat is currently up for bid on eBay. Bidding ends January 11th at 8 PM EST.
Note about Photography: All images that are shown here without credits have been provided with permission from Acacia Courtney.