Monthly Archives: November 2022

Guest Blog: The Long, Winding Road to Kentucky

When I decided years ago that I wanted to visit Kentucky, it was to see my favorite racehorse, California Chrome. But before I could, he moved to Japan. I hope he comes back someday (or that I go to Japan, of course); he was a special horse that really got me into racing. I’d later learn that Will Take Charge would also be moving to Japan, so I was lucky to see him near the end of our trip.

Anyway, after 12 hours of driving, I was ready—for fried chicken, Thoroughbreds, racing, and stallions. We had arrived in Louisville. For a city that hosts prestigious Thoroughbred races, has a huge convention center, is the hometown of major companies and Muhammad Ali (AKA The Greatest), the city was rugged outside of a 2 block radius, and not many people were walking around. Nevertheless, we made the most of it.

At Churchill Downs, we went through the Kentucky Derby Museum, which had some cool facts and items. When the race day began, I speedwalked from paddock to rail and back again for 7 races.

This horse got a quick wash in the paddock before gearing up.
Malibu S S, a compact, muscular horse that finished 2nd in his race.
Eleven Central being brought down for the 6th race…
…and after winning, being brought out of the winner’s circle.
Two Minute Drill first, Justifying second.
The statue of the magnificent Barbaro in the stretch of the 2006 Kentucky Derby.

We drove 1 1/2 hours to Lexington (named after the racehorse, whose statue is at Thoroughbred Park), which was more quaint but still had some towering buildings and parking garages. The area in and around Lexington has a plethora of horse farms and 2 universities—yet it felt like being in the movie Inception. Despite what looked like attempts at revitalization (perhaps derailed by the pandemic), there wasn’t much to see or do. The main street had a fair number of people; outside of it, there was practically no one. Once, as someone breezed through a red light, a woman at the crosswalk threw her hands up and expressed her anger: “Fine, just go through the red light, there’s no law here!” Meanwhile, a multinational center advertised Lexington as the city to be. As in Louisville, we tried to make the most of it.

Thoroughbred Park is a small triangular oasis.
This towering statue of Secretariat, horseracing’s GOAT, stands in a roundabout. Wish we had statues like this back home!

The highlight of our trip was Old Friends, which has retired some horses I know and watched on TV, so it really felt like visiting old friends. Among many star-studded residents, the one I was most looking forward to seeing was Game On Dude, which luckily we did AND I got to pet him (though he was more interested in eating carrots and cribbing). Dude was surprisingly unimpressive—small in stature, plain brown, a tapering snout—but a top-class racehorse with multiple stakes wins and $6.5 million in earnings.

Game On Dude.
Game On Dude’s pasture buddy, Little Mike.
Bellamy Road.
Green Mask.
Silver Charm paid no attention to us, then eventually casually walked over for some shredded carrots.
US Ranger.
Draxhall Woods and Exulting.
Milwaukee Brew waited patiently for carrots.
Albertus Maximus stayed in the field across from his half-brother, Nobiz Like Shobiz. He passed away shortly after we got home, at age 18.
Special Ring was eager to show us his lip tattoo. Sun King joined in on the fun.

Claiborne Farm is one of the most historic stud farms because some of the greatest stallions in US history have stood here. They raise horses on another part of the farm, and race their own in yellow silks. We didn’t realize until later that they are apparently very unique in allowing people to pet the stallions and take pictures with them right there.

Runhappy, a fast racehorse, is the most playful according to the guide, though still respectful as he extended his neck to mouth the air or chain. I was amazed by how athletic he looked.
War Front was a decent racehorse, but has really found his stride as a stallion, with the highest fee on the roster. He stood statue-still in the conformation stance.
Only when the guide reached into his pocket for peppermints did he move and let out a soft nicker.
War of Will (a son of War Front) begged by pawing the ground.
First Samurai begged over top of his gate.

The Kentucky Horse Park is a huge place with lots to see. There was even a show jumping event while we were there, so we snuck over to watch. Similar to Old Friends, the Park has been the retirement home of some champion racehorses.

The mighty Man O’ War, described simply by Joe Palmer “as near to a living flame as horses ever get.”
Staff Sergeant Reckless served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, and is known for her actions in the Battle of Outpost Vegas. She is buried at Camp Pendleton. “She wasn’t a horse—She was a Marine!”
Drying off after a bath.
Champion Funny Cide.

At Keeneland, preparation for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships was underway. The energy was palpable. We toured the facilities and watched horses during morning workouts. Opening Day was packed, so we hugged the rail to hold our position.

A young horse schooling eagerly in the paddock as the morning light strikes the old white sycamore.
Horses on the way to start their workouts, while others do theirs on the inside.
The stretch drive of the first race.
She’s All Class after her first career win in the second race.
Crackalacking in the post parade for the third race. They might have noticed me standing taking pictures on the highest ground available.
Olga Isabel (12) passed the finish line first, but was disqualified and placed 2nd behind Jag Warrior (11).
My Uncle Leon, energetic in the post parade for the sixth race.
Manny Wah, eventual winner of the Phoenix Stakes.
I’m not the only one who loves photographing racehorses… here’s Sabalenka.
Delight after winning the Jessamine Stakes.
Wonder Wheel after her Alcibiades Stakes win.
“The losers” of the last race of the day.
Dance Warrior, a job well done after finishing 3rd.

Three Chimneys Farm is another stud farm and was a late addition to our itinerary, where we had extra time.

The legendary Seattle Slew.
Volatile, a sprinter.
Palace Malice taking a nap.

I saw Will Take Charge in the 2013 Preakness Stakes. He finished 7th. By year’s end, he would be champion 3 year old male. Against top competition (including stablemate Palace Malice and old friend Game On Dude) in 11 races that year, he proved himself a tough racehorse. His 2nd—by a late-surging nose—in the Breeders’ Cup Classic is still one of my favorite races, for when the big chestnut started his stretch drive, you were in for a good race. As our large tour group approached, “Willy” turned to face us, ears flicking to and fro as he stood calmly, looking with kind eyes. His flashy markings made him easy to spot both live and on TV. His large, tall frame carried a musculature that exuded strength. Truly a hunk. He is also the friendliest stallion you could ever hope to meet.

Will Take Charge in the 2013 Preakness Stakes, taken with my point-and-shoot camera.

At Stonestreet Farm, which focuses on broodmares and their babies—how life begins for a Thoroughbred racehorse—we saw Mannerly’s weanling, known as the nicest one around the barn and a camera-hog. A future superstar?

Tapit – Mannerly filly.

After that, we started on our 10 hour drive back home, with lots of horse memories and without having had one single piece of Kentucky fried chicken.