Racing & Wagering

Angel Watches Over Arlington on Opening Day

| Churchill Downs Communications | 04/30/2010 #

In Today's Notes: 

  • Angel Watches Over Arlington on Opening Day
  • Tanner Takes Two Thursday: Riggs Reigns on Opening Day
  • Reminder: Arlington's Post Time 12:15 p.m. This Saturday
  • David Letterman Friday: Things Heard in Jockey's Room

"Arlington made an angel in heaven smile yesterday," said jockey valet Kenny Rice Friday morning, speaking in the local jockeys' room as he recapped Arlington's opening day ceremonies honoring his late daughter Meghan Samantha Rice.

What began as a stated pledge by Churchill Downs Incorporated chief operating officer Bill Carstanjen to honor Meghan with a race in her name during last summer's taping of the CBS show "Undercover Boss," and subsequently made public during the show's March airing, became a feel-good moment that exceeded all expectations Thursday for the Rice family.

Meghan, born with a heart defect, was originally not expected to survive infancy, but overcame astronomical medical odds to live for 20 years before succumbing to heart problems in March of 2009.

"When we all got home last night, I told my family: ‘Meghan was here with us today.'  I believe that sincerely because she keeps visiting me in my dreams letting me know she's okay," Rice said.  "She tells me that she's very happy where she is - not to worry about her - she's doing fine and that she knows she's going to see me again someday.  What really enforces that belief for me is that the week before she died the two of us went to communion together and she accepted Jesus Christ as her savior.  I've always felt especially grateful that we got to do that.

"When she was still with us, Meghan always wanted to change the world," Rice said, "and now I think she may actually be doing that.  The people that came up to us yesterday to tell us how our family's story inspired them was truly heart-warming, and the applause that followed the video about Meghan on the infield tote board brought tears to my eyes.

"There was one family from Connecticut - total strangers to us before yesterday - that saw the "Undercover Boss" show and made arrangement to fly to Chicago just to be here for opening day at Arlington and for the race honoring Meghan," Rice said.  "They had also lost a daughter not long ago, and the surviving daughters from that family got together and spent some quality time with my two other daughters - Meghan's younger sisters - during yesterday's program before heading back to their home.

"Since Meghan has been gone, she has opened a whole new door in my heart," Rice said as he sat at an outside table behind the jockeys' room enjoying the pleasantries of a beautiful spring morning.  "Right now, I'm enjoying listening to the birds singing.  I didn't always notice things like that, but I do now.  And I can remember teaching her how to drive in this parking lot right here when she was still a little kid.  I even remember the night a security guard caught us driving around out here and chased us away.

"Also, I really want to take the time to thank Bill Carstanjen, Mr. Duchossois, Mr.Thayer, Louie Roussel III and Frank Calabrese for all they have done for me and my family," Rice said.

"You know, another thing most people don't know is that there are three people that are enjoying a new life today because of Meghan," Rice said.  "She was an organ donor, and there is a little girl who was born blind that can see now because she has Meghan's eyes.  Another lady is back teaching school now because she has Meghan's liver, and someone else has Meghan's kidneys.

"Actually, we were given the opportunity to meet the little girl who got Meghan's eyes, Rice concluded.  "The family wanted to thank us personally, but they understood completely when we said we didn't think we were quite ready for that.

"Like I said, God gave me a gift when he gave Meghan to me and my family," Rice added.  "She had a glow about her that lit up the whole world." 

Jockey Tanner Riggs, Hawthorne's jockey champion in the fall of 2009 and the spring of 2010, also has the early lead at Arlington after one day of racing, winning the second race Thursday aboard John and Lois Auer's Flaming Glory for trainer Joel Berndt and the sixth astride Eagle Valley Farm's Forthelonghaul for conditioner Frank Kirby.

Arlington guests are reminded that a special early Saturday post time of 12:15 p.m. will be in effect this Saturday in consideration of Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs.

Racing fans throughout the nation are reminded that on David Letterman's show Friday night there will be a top 10 list read of things overheard in the jockey's room at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day.