Louisville, Kentucky (WDRB) — A Louisville student has taken the reins of a one-of-a-kind program at Murray State University. Literally.
What is the relationship between horse racing and football? Quite a lot, in fact.
It’s a sprint to the end zone unlike any other game in college football. The Murray State Racers follow 10-year-old Quarter Horse Vegas onto the field at every home game.
In the saddle is Madison Kirby, an Eastern High School graduate from Louisville who has known she wanted to ride for Racer 1 ever since she first visited campus.
“That’s when our tour guide kind of stopped and explained the traditions and explained how the horse runs around the track, and my dad’s eyes lit up,” said Kirby. “My eyes lit up.”
Kirby’s horse eyes lit up since she was three years old. Her father owned racehorses and she spent a lot of time on the back of Churchill Downs becoming a decorated rider. Years later, Kirby would become the obvious choice to be the back-up for Vegas at Murray State home games.
“Her riding experience went very well and she ended up at the top of all the committee lists,” said Shea Burr, a professor at Murray State University.
Every rider touchdown means a thrilling ride around the track – a tradition since 1976.
“When they start chanting ‘RACERS’ and spelling it out when I go jogging,” Kirby said. “And my heart is pounding. There is so much excitement and fear and I just love it.”
Vegas loves it too. He was born and bred in Murray State and has been the first quarter horse since 2019.
“He just stands absolutely still,” said Kirby. “He knows when to take a picture. He’s good with kids, and knows when it’s time to run up and put on a show.”
Vegas loves the lights — and the candy.
“Any kind of hard candy, he likes,” Kirby said. “I get this molasses to make cookies for. These are my favourites.”
Very unpopular when Vegas and his ancestors are reported for “personal foul”.
“Knock on wood,” Burr joked, “we haven’t stopped them working and making a mess.” “But sometimes, they’ll make a mess while they’re running.”
But Kirby doesn’t see what can be left behind – only the excitement ahead.
“Just hearing the crowd crying out for you,” she said, “all eyes are on you.” “And when I look around the role and look at the big screen and here I am — it’s just an experience I’ll never be able to describe, but I’ll always remember.”
Madison loves interacting with fans and children, and hopes to one day teach and participate in horses and farming.
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