The horse racing tabloid was placed on the ground and seated behind it—reading it upside down—was Virginia “Jenny” Kellner, the then 4-year-old horse enthusiast. That’s not only when she fell in love with horses, it’s when she discovered that she wanted to be one. The latter obviously didn’t work out, but she figured out how to stay around thoroughbreds her entire life when she began writing about them for newspapers in the early 1970s.
“Every year, my parents would ask me what I wanted for Christmas,” said Kellner. “I would say a horse or a pony, and I didn’t quite get that, but here I am surrounded by 1,800 horses every day.”
Kellner, Belmont Park’s assistant director of communication and public affairs, started on the sports beat at Newsday in 1973, where she began to handicap horses. In 1976, she moved to New Jersey’s Bergen Record and a year later she experienced her first Belmont Stakes from the press box. Seattle Slew had just completed the first two legs of the Triple Crown—the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes—and was en route to join only nine other horses who have completed that feat.
Right away, she was exposed to the sport at its best, and experienced it again a year later when Secretariat swept the event. It fueled her admiration for the sport and her coverage brought her closer to it, too.
“I’ve covered a lot of Super Bowls, I’ve covered the Olympics, but on Belmont Stakes day, with the Triple Crown on the line, there’s nothing that beats it,” Kellner said.
When the horse racing journalist job started to become scarce, Kellner left newspapers full time and began to teach earth science in New York City. On the side, she contributed to The New York Times and worked with Belmont Park’s publicity office—trying to stay as involved in racing as possible. Then, in 2007, she returned to Belmont.
She’s been there for nine years now, handling publicity, writing the occasional column for the New York Racing Association’s website, dealing with media credential requests and still experiencing almost every race.
There’s no escaping horse racing for Kellner, who lives right behind Belmont Park in a house that rumbles when the horses race, from when the announcer says “and they’re off,” until the final horse crosses the finish line. It’s not a disturbance to her; it’s the perfect morning. Her children aren’t impressed, but the sound of the horses running make her feel like a child again.
“In the morning, I get woken up by the horses going by and it’s a wonderful sound,” said Kellner, who first moved to the Floral Park area in 1990.
Not much has changed for Kellner at Belmont and it’s nostalgic to her; the beautiful track remains the same, but the horse racing community has collapsed. The sport’s following has decreased over the years and the attendance isn’t what it used to be, due to new betting methods.
“The building is the same, the landscaping is the same, but what’s changed is being able to bet from your smart phones,” said Kellner, who believes this has contributed to the lack of attendance during the week. “There’s not that many people that come to the races anymore and I think they miss out on a lot.”
When people do come out to the track, the energy is high and everyone has fun, which excites Kellner, because it reminds her why she loves horse racing so much; it brings her extreme bliss. Horse racing’s following may have decreased, but it’s impossible for Kellner’s emotion for the sport to decline.
On Saturday, June 6, when American Pharaoh attempts to complete the third leg of the Triple Crown at Belmont Park, Kellner will look on as a professional and a fan. She won’t be on a tight deadline, she won’t be hunched over a laptop writing her race story; she’ll just enjoy the sounds of the horse’s thumps and hope that she will witness history, again, for the third time in her life.
But it’s not the history that excites Kellner; it’s the beauty of the race.