Friday, April 4, 2008

Keeneland



My first morning in the Bluegrass dawned wet and soggy. Flash flood warnings were on the television when I woke up and the rain was pounding on my window. I hadn't slept much - by the time I went to bed it was 12:30 AM and I was up before 6; mostly because I was like a kid at Disneyland. It's my first day ever in Kentucky and I wanted to make the most of each moment that I'm here. I thought I'd be more tired, but then it dawned on me that all I really did yesterday was sit down. I drove 13 hours, but it was all sitting and it is a very easy 13 hours from the Twin Cities to Lexington. Aside from the Chicaoland area, it's a breeze and it went by very quickly.

Once crossing over into Kentucky at Louisville, I followed I-64 to state route 60. I left the interstate at 60 and followed it through Versailles. I wasn't more than a mile down the road when I knew I made a strategic error in leaving at 8 AM instead of earlier in the morning to arrive before dark. Large stone and wrought-iron gates postmarked the way to Lexington and behind those gates were massive stables and I knew I was missing something special. I immediately altered my return plans on Monday. I originally scheduled myself to head out before dawn on Monday, but now I'm not leaving until after sunrise. The Versailles Road is one I need to see in the daylight.

I passed Keeneland and a smile crept inadvertantly over my face. I was going to be there tomorrow and it's opening weekend! Somerset Sam will work this weekend and I'll get to meet his trainer, Kellyn Gorder, as well. It'll be the first time I've seen Sammy since he was turned out over the winter. It has been almost 5 months, so I'm anxious to see him now at 3 - no longer a baby, but an adolescent get ready to start his career. Like all Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds before their first race, he is all promise and potential and has his owners dreaming of a summer like no other.

Because of the rain, Somerset Sam will breeze on Saturday rather than today so I spent the morning at the Kentucky Horse Park. It was a great way to spend three hours but I will save that for a post of it's own next week. This weekend we'll focus on racing.

Keeneland is beautiful and historic. The winding drive to the parking lot off of Versailles Road builds the anticipation of seeing the plant as you come over the slight hill and park under the trees. My first thought as I parked was 'this is like a college football game'. Turns out opening day was College Day at Keeneland. It was very nice to see so many young people at the track. Too many times when I was in my 30's I'd be at the track and been the youngest person in the place. The aging of our fan base certainly doesn't bode well for future of the sport. Granted, Keeneland was giving away $1000 scholarships between races, but these kids were betting and having fun. I know that many of them will be back and that gives us hope. Now if we could only generate that kind of interest outside of Kentucky...

This was my first experience with Polytrack live. There were heavy rains overnight, but the track was listed as fast - a good sign for the Poly. One thing I noticed as the day wore on, though, was that fractions were very slow. Even in the Transylvannia (Gr III) the first quarter was only run in :25 3/5 and these Stakes horses couldn't break :50 for a half. For the most part speed couldn't hold, but to be fair there were not a lot of speed horses in today. I am really looking forward to see how the track dries out and comparing fractions over the next two days. SUnday should be especially telling as it should be close to 70 and sunny with little breeze, while there were some stiff winds today. In that feature, Boss Lafitte bested favorite Prussian (4th) and my choice, Barrier Reef (still running).

The first two year old race of the season went 4.5 furlongs and, picking up where he left off last Spring here, Steve Assmussen sent out Merkel to top the group of first time starters rather easily (in deep stretch below).


Other highlights were two DQs in the first four races! Right out of the gate, Above Board pinballed off of horses down the stretch to be DQ'd out of winner's circle. There was no question about it even as the race was run. Watching the replay, the infractions were even more obvious, which is why I was incredulous to see a middle aged guy out of his mind complaining that the stewards were idiots and didn't know what they were talking about. He apparently wasn't watching the same race I was. In the fourth, Great Thought was also all over the place in the stretch and was taken down. This DQ, though warranted, really set the crowd off as she was the 2-1 favorite and taking her down (and off the board) set up 21-1 shot Favorite Fantasy as the winner. Again, though unpopular, it was certainly the correct decision.

As the day wore on the weather worsened until the last two of the day, the Transylvania and a nice $54,000 allowance race ended up being run in a drizzle. As a topper on the day, the nightcap triggered a $9700 dollar trifecta and a whopping $69,000 dollar superfecta. Needless to say there were not a lot of tickets I saw cashed after that race!

Tommorrow should be a nicer day and with Proud Spell highlighting the Grade I Ashland Stakes, it should be a great day of racing.

2 comments:

Jen said...

Aww, I remember when I moved to Lexington and visited Keeneland for the first time (that was back in the days of the good old dirt surface, though). Have you made it over to the Track kitchen for breakfast yet? They have surprisingly good food there, as well as some great horse photos on the walls to reminisce about. Highly recommended.

Ted G said...

Oddly enough, at this moment I am heading out of the hotel room and over to the backside to watch Sammy work and have breakfast in the kitchen!! Thanks, Jen!