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KEENELAND

 

Friday, May 6

 

My son and I played hooky one morning and went to see the horses work at Keeneland.  There were maybe 20 visitors on the entire grounds.  We wandered through the paddocks and saw horses learning how to walk in the warm-up ring and then through the tunnel onto the track.  The sun was rising, planes were taking off in the distance, and a million chirping birds flew to and fro.

Then we stood on the rail for a couple of hours and saw dozens of horses go through their various workouts, from the nervous two year olds jigging around with experienced exercise riders and ponies, to the high dollar stakes horses being timed in a flat-out gallop.  We saw some gorgeous horses and some really, really fast works.  Lawson had his stopwatch and timed a few.  Some of the fanciest sprinters do their real works on the far side, so you can't time them, but many hit their fasted speed so they end at the finish line in front of the grandstands, which is incredibly cool.

Many of the riders talk or sing to their horses.  English, Spanish, French – we heard it all.  Whispers of encouragement to a horse that thinks it has hit top speed.  Lullabies to soothe fractious colts.  Chortles and whistles and clucks galore.  The track is a noisy place.  You never expect to hear exercise riders, galloping three astride, to be talking to each other about dates, friends and musing on life as if they were out for a quiet stroll.  That really surprised me.

Then we wandered past the barns, watching horses be bathed, groomed, tacked, fed, or even being ridden through the aisles for exercise.  My favorite was a stable washing three horses at a time.  They had it down to an art, arcing the hose across backs and sponging legs in quick succession.

Next we made a pit stop at the track kitchen to have enormous bacon and egg sandwiches with a rotating crew of jockeys, trainers and owners.  Even my jaded son was pretty impressed.

Left the house at 6 a.m., was home by 9:30 and at a desk in lawyer clothes by 10, nobody the wiser.

It was truly incredible.  We are definitely doing this again.  No entrance fee, nobody around, just you, the horses, and the people who work with them.  Unbelievably wonderful.

If you all are ever in Lexington overnight, it is totally worth getting up early to do this.  Keeneland is a state treasure and this was just so peaceful and exciting, both at once.