When New York was ordered to hunker down in March, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame was knee-deep in a long-awaited renovation project, its first in 20 years. But even as it became clear that the museum wouldn’t reopen in time for the Saratoga Race Course summer meet as planned, the Museum’s incredibly even-keeled director, Cate Masterson, took it as well as anybody possibly could.
“COVID put us back 12 weeks,” says Masterson of the project that at press time was rescheduled for a September 5 unveiling. “But everyone on staff had the most positive attitude. Teams from out of state had to quarantine for two weeks, but everyone just said, ‘We’ll make up some time.’ No one ever said it couldn’t be done. Everyone was willing to do whatever it took in a short amount of time.”
Masterson has a long history of staying cool under pressure. In college, she interned at Ed Lewi Associates (the New York Racing Association didn’t have an internship program, so the track’s PR firm was the next best thing). In a now-famous story, Lewi himself once returned to the office, and Masterson rattled off a list of messages he needed to return and meetings he was called to attend. “He laughed,” Masterson says. “He told me no one had ever told him what to do before.” The confident, detail-oriented whippersnapper went on to work at the agency for eight years after graduation, before moving on to eight years for famed horse trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
Then the museum came knocking.
Even though it was her first foray into the world of nonprofits, it seemed like a perfect fit for the horse racing diehard who had begged her parents for a day at the track for her 16th birthday. “I remember going into the museum for the first time,” she says. “It was such an amazing, beautiful place. I knew a lot of the members and a lot of Hall of Fame inductees.” In August 2016, she was hired as director of development, which put to use a lot of the events and customer service skills she had learned while working in public relations. Two years later, she became interim director and was appointed director in April of last year.
“Everything is fixable,” she says of her focused leadership style, which spans from owning up to mistakes to not leaving a job until you’ve thoroughly trained your replacement and spotlighting the importance of teamwork. “It’s never dull,” she says of her time at the museum. “I absolutely love it.”