Local horse farms and organizations partner with Keeneland to help grant the wishes of children with critical illnesses.
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Lauren Sparrow is the community relations manager at Keeneland. She said it’s amazing to see the joy that race day brings to kids’ faces.
“Our favorite part is getting to see how special this day is and to invite a lot of these families who have never been out. And together, it’s just family time for them. So they get to spend time together doing something cool and unique that they might have not got the chance to, so the kids can just be kids,” Sparrow said.
Tim Willis is the grandfather of 4-year-old Hadlee, who has a genetic disorder that causes seizures. He said he’s excited to see the spotlight shine on his granddaughter.
“She’s like a sponge; she really absorbs attention, so it’s really awesome to be here and see this happen for her,” Willis said.
After the first race of the day, all eyes were on Hadlee as she joined the winning horse in the winner’s circle.
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Nikki Benton, 15, was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a type of bone cancer, back in November of 2021. After nine months of chemotherapy, two months of radiation, and multiple surgeries, she opened the day by singing the national anthem, and now she’s here for support.
“My advice would be to trust your doctors and your nurses and to always be grateful because no matter where you are, you can win the toughest battles,” Benton said.