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Lori Cirillo: Living the (teenage) horse racing dream

By Chris Lomon
 
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When she was little more than waist-high to her father, Lori Cirillo remembers the rush of the thoroughbreds whizzing by at dizzying speeds, and wondering aloud, ‘Dad, wouldn’t it be great if we ever had a horse in the Queen’s Plate?’  
 
Less than month ago, as she sat in the owners’ section at Woodbine Racetrack on a sun-soaked late June afternoon, Cirillo couldn’t help but recall the times she’d accompany her father, Frank (a longtime horse owner), to racetracks across Ontario.
 
This day, however, was an entirely different experience. The teenager, who’ll soon turn 16, wasn’t at the Queen’s Plate to watch other people’s horses contest Canada’s most famous horse race.
 
She was there to watch her horse.
 
When Lucas n’ Lori, named after Cirillo and co-owner Kelly Waxman’s young son, Lucas, took to the Toronto oval main track for post parade before the big race, Cirillo, accompanied by family and friends, exhaled a nervous breath and then smiled.
 
“I always thought about this moment,” Cirillo said. “My dad told me that having a horse in the Plate would be a dream, but the odds would be so high of it actually happening. I would say, ‘How funny would it be if we were in the Queen’s Plate?’ What if it were us standing there?’ And when it did, I turned to my dad and said, ‘Can you believe it? This is happening.’”


Photo by John Watkins
 
As the gates opened on the 160th running of North America’s longest continually run stakes race, Lucas n’ Lori, with apprentice jockey Kazushi Kimura in the irons, got away slowly as the field of 14 passed by the grandstand for the first time.
 
Sent off at 123-1, the colt bred by Silver Springs Stud LLC and Garry Parr, and trained by Kevin Attard, was exactly where his odds suggested he would be.
 
“When the race got underway, and he ended up breaking towards the back of the field, I was a little worried,” admitted Cirillo who owned her first horse when she was 10. “I know this horse can close, but I was still concerned that it was going to be too much of a gap and nothing was going to happen.”
 
Last at the half-mile mark and eleventh after one mile of the 1 ¼-mile race, the sturdy chestnut son of Exhi had improved to ninth at track announcer Robert Geller’s stretch call.
 
Catching the leaders, eventual winner One Bad Boy and runner-up Avie’s Flatter, was out of the question after the duo distanced themselves from their rivals.
 
Standing on her tiptoes, Cirillo watched as Lucas n’ Lori passed a handful of horses. At the wire, he finished sixth as the second longest shot on the board.
 
“As the race went on and I started to see him closing I became really excited,” she said. “When he finished sixth, I was so happy. I thought it was amazing. I would never have expected that to happen. All of it… it was just so surreal to me.”
 
She felt the very same way when she saw Lucas n’ Lori after his Plate performance.
 
“I just gave him the biggest hug,” said Cirillo. “I was so happy to see him. He put all of his heart into that race. I also thanked Kazushi because he gave the horse an excellent ride. Kevin also did an amazing job training this horse. Everyone worked so hard to get him here.”



Her reward for the big moment?
 
“I celebrated by getting an ice cream after… cookie dough. It’s the best way to celebrate. We were all so ecstatic. Even my fellow owners were happy for me. When we bought this horse, we said to one another, ‘Could you imagine if he made it to the Queen’s Plate?’ It was a joke at first. When he started racing, it wasn’t a joke any more. We thought, ‘Maybe he could go to the Plate.’ And then it happened.”
 
But the story of Lucas n’ Lori doesn’t end there.
 
He's set to contest the $500,000 Breeders’ Stakes on August 17. The final jewel in the Triple Crown series is a marathon 1 ½-mile test over Woodbine’s world-renowned E.P. Taylor Turf Course.
 
“Our horse loves the turf,” Cirillo offered. “And the mile-and-a-half distance is perfect for him. When he came around the turn and was running hard down the stretch in the Queen’s Plate, he could have still kept going. The distance is great and he won’t get tired.”
 
Neither will Cirillo, who is “pretty wired” these days.
 
“I’m starting to wrap my head around it all and I’m bouncing off the walls.”


 
She figured two weeks helping out at her former elementary school would take her mind off horse racing, at least temporarily.
 
No such luck.
 
“I was volunteering with the summer kindergarten campers,” said Cirillo who also owns a handful of Standardbreds. “I help the teachers out. There was one kid who told me that his dad goes to Woodbine and has a horse. I told him, ‘Dream big, kid. I was once in your shoes.’”
 
Dream big also happens to be Cirillo’s mantra for people considering joining the ranks of horse ownership.
 
“Win, lose or draw, it’s one of the most amazing experiences you’ll ever have in your life. I wouldn’t trade my horses or my experiences for anything. These horses have made my life so special. Honestly, if you dream big enough, anything can happen.”

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