Working at Wal-Mart, Lily Cimino got sold on harness racing

by Chris Lomon

It’s been less than a year since she joined the standardbred ranks, but Lily Cimino found a way to keep pace from day one.

Her connection to horse racing and horses came through her boyfriend, trainer Christopher Walsh. Although she enjoyed her visits to the farm, barn and to the races, the thought of becoming part of those worlds never crossed her mind.

Until it did.

Last summer, when she was working at a Wal-Mart in her native Pennsylvania, the opportunity to leave retail behind and take on a racing role arose.

“I met Chris and I started going out to the farm just to hang out and eventually, he started teaching me things about the horses,” Cimino said. “I was interested in all of it right away. So, when he asked me to work in his barn, I jumped at the chance. I was lucky to catch on pretty quick and I just fell in love with it.”

She also fell in love with the equine athletes.

Three in particular immediately come to mind.

“Kingstons Bad Boy was there when I started,” Cimino said. “He was such a nice horse when we had him. He was so patient with me. The first time I put a harness on, it probably took me half an hour and he just stood there and was patient and easy going. Indigo Art, who we still have, is another favorite for me. He knows what to do and he never lets us down. He’s a total professional all the way through.”

The last entry in her beloved trifecta comes in the form of a 3-year-old trotting daughter of Chapter Seven—Morosita Bi.

“A filly, Foxy Joyce, I really love her too,” Cimino said. “She’s over at my friend Brittany’s barn and I met this horse when she was a baby. She was so cute and I just loved petting her. They are so easy to fall in love with. They are all different and have their own personalities and quirks, but they are all great.”

Cimino has also embraced the steep learning curve that comes with being new to the sport.

Although she had some trepidation about how she would fare in the barns and beyond, her fascination with horses and horse racing, coupled with a willingness to educate herself about the industry, helped calm any nervousness almost from the outset.

“I had a few butterflies before I started and in the first few days, but I enjoyed it from the first moment, so that made it a lot easier,” Cimino said. “I don’t want to say it’s all easy because it’s not. But I wanted to make sure if I was doing this that I really listened and learned. There are so many things I have to learn and I am open to that 100 per cent. I think it was easier than I thought because I like it so much. When you enjoy what you are doing, you want to be there and you want to be the best you can be.”

Cimino, who hails from Dallas, PA, is grateful for the ability to do a little bit of everything on any given day.

She certainly doesn’t miss those times in retail.

“I do a little bit of everything,” Cimino said. “I do stalls, feed, their feet, groom them, bathe them, make sure they are clean, happy and ready to go. They’re so happy to see you and that makes you feel so lucky. I always make sure I have my carrots for them and that they always get their pats.”

As for the most treasured part of her job, Cimino points to the moments when the only thing left at the end of a mile is getting a picture taken.

“I love seeing the horses win,” Cimino said. “That walk over to the winner’s circle is a great feeling. That’s my favorite part. I think some of them can sense when they’ve won and I know it gets my adrenaline going too. It’s a great feeling.”

While Cimino is more reserved, at least outwardly, Walsh, she noted, can be far more demonstrative, especially verbally once the field turns for home.

Her mind, however, is undoubtedly racing, as the wire draws closer.

“Chris’ mother, ‘Weez,’ is the loudest during races,” Cimino said. “She starts yelling the second the starter car begins moving until the second the race is over. I’m calmer than Chris is. I watch it and everything is running through my head. Chris is more vocal than I am for sure. He is definitely loud when they’re coming down the lane and we have a chance to win.”

Although they react differently in those situations, the couple is no doubt on the same page the moment they walk into the barn in the early morning hours.

“We get along great,” Cimino said. “I don’t know how to explain it, other than that we respect what the other one does and how they go about it. He always supports me and is always willing to answer any questions I have. I didn’t know how much there was to it, just the ups and downs of racing before I started. The people that work in racing are so passionate about it and work so hard and have to find a way to deal with all of those highs and lows. Seeing it from the inside gives you a whole new level of respect for everyone. Fortunately, we have our own system down pat, which makes things run smoothly every day.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that things don’t get competitive between the two.

Just not at the racetrack.

“We like to go shoot pool with our friends,” Cimino said. “It gets competitive. We’re both like that. Chris is definitely better, but I don’t admit that, so I’ll say it’s me. Our busy days are normally the weekends, so it’s definitely not a 9-to-5 job. But that’s fine with me. I enjoy it and it doesn’t really feel like you’re at work.”

This year, Cimino would like to add a new skillset to her racing repertoire, a way to expand her contributions to the stable while also strengthening her bond with the horses.

Sitting behind a horse or two, she shared, would be a big thrill.

“I want to learn how to jog a horse,” Cimino said. “That is something I’m hoping for. Hopefully, I will be able to do that in the summer. That would make me happy.”

For now, keeping the dialogue going with the pacers and trotters will have to suffice.

And that is perfectly fine for Cimino.

“I always talk to them,” she said. “They always listen too, so it’s a great relationship.”