Watching horses run on a TV screen bears the same relation to the real experience as masturbation does to sex.To Mr. Murray's insightful observation, let me just add that the same comparison could be made between visiting Mountaineer and experiencing Keeneland. We attended Keeneland's opening weekend, and I'm still tingling.
-- William Murray, The Right Horse
Fellow TBA'er Power Cap has already given a detailed overview and some delightful pictures of the Keeneland experience. I'll not repeat his observations here, but instead I'll share a few of the moments that made our trip to Lexington so special.
- The paddock alone is worth the price of admission. At Keeneland, a visit to the paddock is a feast for the eyes, with stonework stalls and shady trees for for the horses to circle. A well-manicured hedge separates the fans from the runners. The connections seem to be there for most every race, from claimer to stakes, dressed in their winner's circle best. The hope in the air is almost palpable.
And in these civil surroundings, stories seem to unfold. Before the third race on Saturday, a $50K Maiden Special Weight, I watched as an older woman patted her horse on the nose, watching her filly with an expression of eagerness and trepidation that would be familiar to anyone who's sent a child off to the first day of school. The story was completed minutes later, when I saw this woman again, now in the winner's circle beside Honchis'n Ponchis, the joy of the maiden win evident in her uninhibited grin.
- Even on busy race days, it's hard to get shut out. This is fortunate, since I often modify my wager based on my rather quirky observations of the horses in the paddock. I have yet to learn the language of confirmation and condition, and so fall back on a terminology all my own that puzzles my racing companions. The King, for example, cannot understand my notes, where "prancy" usually translates into a place bet, and "depressed" heralds a vulnerable favorite.
On opening day, in yet another $50K MSW, I was strolling around the paddock, soaking up the atmosphere, with a win bet on Turfiste already tucked into my pocket. As the bugle announced the coming post parade, I was astonished to see Budget, an unraced gelding out of Seeking the Gold, jerk his head up, perk his ears, and, as I noted on my form, looking "ready 2 run." The short lines at the windows enticed me, and I made a little place wager on the eager Budget. While it was delightful to cash both tickets, I simply cannot fathom how I neglected to play the exacta, which paid $439. (Of course, it was the first day, and I was still a bit dismayed by the sad news that Keeneland no longer offers the quinella at all, so that may explain my lapse in judgement.)
- Keeneland is a lovely place to watch a grey on the lead. Power Cap has noted that the west-facing grandstand has sun glare issues, but I find that there's a certain beauty to the way the sinking sun catches that bit of blond at the end of a grey's tail on the backstretch that is simply magical. Both Thorn Song and Indyanne were glimmering as they set the pace in their races, the Shadwell Turf Mile and the Thoroughbred Club of America's Stakes, respectively.
Avid readers know that a Turf Luck picture is worth about two words (usually "how awful"), but still, I'm fond of this photo of Indyanne I snapped after the race; she's headed back to the barns while the award ceremony and post-race interviews, shown on the jumbotron, are still going strong.
- It's a joy to cheer for a former Mountaineer horse at Keeneland. It seems that I always find a name that once graced a Mountaineer program somewhere on the Keeneland card. This year, Tactical Candy ran in the second race of the season, a $30K claiming race. I remember being seduced by her good looks last summer, when even with the capable Dana Whitney in the irons, she was unable to beat a similar field at Mountaineer. Since then, she's done pretty well on the synthetic tracks at Presque Isle, Arlington, and Turfway Park, so, being the sentimental fool that I am, I found myself near the rail for her third attempt at a Keeneland win. She went off at 11-1 and wired the field. And look -- who knew Tactical Candy could fly!
Now, of course, we'll be returning to Mountaineer for our racing entertainment. Perhaps that's a bit like necking in the backseat of a stolen Chevy, but ah! for one glorious weekend, we had the days of wine and roses!