Photography by Dori Fitzpatrick
Horses have been a fundamental part of Acacia Clement’s life since before she can remember. But one childhood memory she does recall—being placed atop a retired racehorse named Siren when she was 8—is what she considers her “love at first sight” moment.
“She was a fast horse and no one really wanted to ride her because of it, but I loved being up there right away,” Clement says. “It was so exciting, such a euphoric experience. I felt like I was flying. My mom was a remarkable horsewoman, and she believed in me. That gave me the confidence I needed to be comfortable around horses and to want to learn everything I could about them. They’re simply magnificent. I’ve always felt that way.”
Growing up in Connecticut, Clement was encouraged through her riding lessons by her mother, Sherrie Courtney, whose passion for horses she inherited. As she honed her skills, Clement started competing in hunter/jumper and dressage events. She began to diversify her interests as she grew up, showing an affinity for classical dance and pageants. Named Miss Connecticut’s Outstanding Teen in 2009, Clement studied with the prestigious Joffrey Ballet and American Ballet Theatre.
Even with other activities demanding much of her time and focus, horses were always a major part of the equation for Clement. At just 17, she got involved with racehorse retirement. With interest in adopting a Thoroughbred, Clement visited Suffolk Downs, a since-shuttered racetrack on the outskirts of Boston.
“I adopted a mare named Palace Diva, who really started me down a path,” Clement says. “I went back [to Suffolk Downs] a couple of months later and came home with two more horses. It was at that point we made a family decision to do this seriously and decided to start Racing For Home.”
Clement’s passion had become purpose. Established in 2011, Racing For Home, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission of providing aftercare for racehorses once they are retired from the track. The organization focuses on retraining Thoroughbreds for second careers and connecting them with prospective future homes. Based at the DeCarli Equestrian Center in Ellington, CT, Racing For Home is one of only 74 organizations in the country accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA). Clement is Racing for Home’s founder and CEO; her mother runs the day-to-day operations, overseeing the care and progress of each retiree; and her father, Brian, is an attorney who tends to legal matters and also spends time doing barn chores and grooming the horses.
“A lot of thought and planning went into getting Racing For Home off the ground,” Clement says. “I did all of the paperwork to get us established as a 501(c)(3) and that was a big deal. I was right out of high school and it was a challenge, but I was determined. I’m proud I took that leap. I owe so much to my parents for their support and involvement. It’s absolutely a family affair and that’s one of the most rewarding aspects of it.”
Racing For Home’s mission? “To provide a safe haven for horses and to help them successfully transition into a second career when possible,” Clement says. “They are all deserving of that opportunity. If a second career isn’t a viable option, our efforts are geared toward finding a forever home that is safe and appropriate. What we do is very different and specific for each horse.”
Clement graduated from Fordham University with a degree in communications, which she has put to good use by developing into one of racing’s most recognizable and respected broadcasters. After stints working for the New York Racing Association (NYRA)’s community relations department, the
Horse Racing Radio Network and the Stronach Group, Clement is now a host, analyst and reporter for NYRA. She hosts the popular America’s Day at the Races and is a fixture (as paddock reporter) on Saratoga Live, two programs broadcast on FOX Sports.
“I absolutely love working for NYRA,” Clement says. “Everyone on camera and everyone on the production team loves racing and are such talented professionals. Our goal is to deliver the best television product in the sport, and I think we’re doing that.”
On the air, Clement is clear, concise and confident. She is exhaustive in her preparation, has a commanding knowledge of the subject matter, and exudes a vibe that she is doing exactly what she is meant to do. Her reporting and analysis resonate with both veteran horseplayers and newcomers to the game.
“A lot of people would be surprised to know that I’m shy by nature,” Clement says. “I describe myself as an extroverted introvert. I really credit ballet and pageants for my being able to put myself out there in front of people. It’s taken work to get comfortable having a lot of eyes on me, but I’ve developed a pretty thick skin.”
Clement says one of her favorite aspects of the job is noticing details about horses and sharing that knowledge with racing fans.
“I love being in the paddock, up close to the horses, and seeing how the trainers and jockeys interact with them—how they’re working as a team and building trust before the race,” she says. “I want to try to pick up on nuances and elements you can’t get just by looking at a track program. I’d say I’m pretty good at seeing how horses change and getting a sense of how they are from a mindset perspective before a race. They all have unique personalities and mannerisms, and I try to convey that to the fans.”
The electric atmosphere at Saratoga and the quality of the racing at the historic track are among the most exciting things Clement has experienced in the sport.
“There’s nothing like Saratoga,” she says. “It brings out the best horses, jockeys and trainers. The competition is incredible. It’s world class and everyone wants to be part of it. You go anywhere in the country, and people know Saratoga as the racing town. There is such amazing energy throughout the entire meet. I love every day of it.”
Being involved in racing led Clement to meet her husband, Miguel, an assistant trainer to his father, Christophe Clement, one of the most accomplished horsemen in the sport. The trainers are mostly based in Saratoga during the summer, rooting Clement in the Spa City, too. (The couple married last March in Jupiter, FL, where the family spends their winters.)
“We’ve had an amazing journey together and I couldn’t be happier,” Clement says. “Miguel and I complement each other so well and support each other in every aspect of our lives and careers. Being a trainer is all day, every day…early mornings, dealing with unexpected challenges. It’s not something that everyone can do. I’m so proud of Miguel and his family. They’re amazing and I’m so thankful to call them family.”
One star-studded outcome of their hard work came after Christophe Clement trained a horse named Pizza Bianca for Bobby Flay. Pizza Bianca became the first Breeders’ Cup winner for Clement, and Flay thanked him in the way only a celebrity chef can.
“Bobby Flay cooked us dinner,” Clement says. “How cool is that? It was one of those amazing and surreal experiences that I’ve been fortunate to have been a part of.”
One of Clement’s great talents is effectively balancing her flourishing broadcast career with her family—especially her husband’s grueling schedule—and Racing For Home. Oh, and don’t forget about the all-encompassing pageants she was winning on the side early on in her broadcasting career. Three years after founding Racing For Home, Clement was named Miss Connecticut 2014 and finished in the top 16 in Miss America. In 2019, she was chosen Miss Connecticut USA.
“I’ve always had the mindset that if I love something I want to give my best to it,” Clement says. “Ballet and pageants both taught me that you have to be all in with your work ethic, but also that if you love what you’re doing it’s a passion and not a job. I’ve been fortunate to have some great opportunities professionally that have tied into or complemented the things I care about.”
Clement credits NYRA for embracing racehorse aftercare and promoting it in a variety of ways.
“Being able to talk about Thoroughbred aftercare and highlight all that has been done, as well as provide awareness of what still needs to be done, is something I’m so proud NYRA emphasizes and supports,” Clement says. “We reach a lot of people on television, at the track, on social media…It’s a tremendous platform and opportunity to make a difference for horses.”
NYRA supports the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance with a $10 contribution per racehorse start and contributes to the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association’s Take the Lead program by helping finance retraining efforts and veterinary expenses. Clement says she will never tire of advocating for the horses: “It absolutely is my calling.”