When Lenny Frazzitta first arrived as a jockey at Beulah Park in 2002, a valet warned him not to drink the water; those who said they wouldn't stay long had a tendency to settle.
"I wasn't planning on staying long, maybe a season or two," Frazzitta said. "I must have drank too much water."
Frazzitta, 36, has now lived in Grove City for 12 years, buying a house in the area about a month after he arrived. He started his career as a jockey in his hometown of Detroit at age 18, and after winning races there, he relocated to Maryland where was ranked one of the top five apprentice riders in the country before coming to Ohio.
Having retired from the sport in 2010, he now works for Grove City Huntington Bank at 2607 London Groveport Road (state Route 665).
When Beulah Park closes, Frazzitta said it will be sad.
"That was my whole life," he said. "It'll be hard because I've always been around there."
Every day, Frazzitta said, it seems as if he speaks a client with a connection to Beulah, whether they knew someone who worked there or had a story there themselves.
"Out east is so fast paced and there's so much traffic," he said. "Here, it just seemed a little more laid back. ... (Grove City) was the most normal-feeling place I'd been."
While the East Coast racetracks carried more prestige and more money, the environment at Beulah was less corporate, Frazzitta said.
"It was a close group there," Frazzitta said. "It means a lot more to people here if you can win for them."
It's been three years since Frazzitta last sat on horse, something nearly unthinkable for someone who spent almost every day of his life on one before then. From a young age, Frazzitta said he knew he wanted to be a jockey. His father also had been one, and his mother drove him to riding lessons after his father died when he was 11 -- although she did convince him to spend a year in college. He returned to school after leaving racing.
"I never wanted to be anything else," Frazzitta said. "It's thrilling. The adrenaline is unbelievable."
The sound of hooves striking the ground "still gives me the chills," Frazzitta said.
On warm days, he said he finds himself looking out the window and thinking it would be nice to go riding, although not so much on cold days. On some days, he would race in temperatures 10 below zero.
"When that dirt hits you, it's like getting shot," he said. "It's a tough, grueling life, but if it's what you want to do, you don't notice it."
During his career as a jockey, Frazzitta endured fractures in his back, concussions, rib injuries and a broken leg after a horse landed on it. But rather than miss six to eight weeks as his doctors recommended, he took his cast off and rode on it.
"In the race, I wouldn't feel it but immediately afterward (it hurt)," he said. "I don't know how I did it."
The life of a jockey also meant eating little food, usually one small meal a day. On a typical day, Frazzitta said he'd start at 4 a.m. with a couple ounces of orange juice and vitamins, followed by trips to the sauna and laps around the track. To keep his weight down, he couldn't drink water, but he could suck on freeze pops.
"The day I retired, I was 112 pounds," he said. That evening, he enjoyed a "normal" meal that included half a slab of ribs and Gatorade. "I went in the next day, and I was 135 pounds. I was so shocked."
Today, Frazzitta said he can't go without lunch.
"It's an odd luxury to get lunch or take my daughter to get ice cream," he said.
Frazzitta said he's fortunate and lucky, not only to have retired relatively healthy from a sport that has killed and paralyzed friends, but also to have found a second career he's passionate about. He, his fiance Lindsay and daughter Lilly enjoy Columbus Blue Jackets games, trips to the zoo and Big Splash and camping.
"It was time to move on and hit another chapter in my life," he said. "If you told me 10 years I would end up in a bank, I'd have said no way."
Still, Frazzitta said he is a little disappointed his daughter won't grow up around around the horse track as he did.
"It'll be hard not to be able to go there and not be able to put a hand on a horse," he said.