It had been five months since I had been to the track. Life at times keeps me from realizing just how much I want to be back in earshot of the call to the post and see horses thundering down the stretch, and hear my heart almost pound in time to the rhythm of both. Yet it had become apparent to me about a month prior to that day the time was overdue to go back to the races. I would have dropped everything and gone then, but the days were still chilly and work and class kept me rooted for the time being. So I bided my time and waited for the Spiral Stakes. It was still a bit chilly that day; such is Kentucky weather, but not as bad as it would have been had we gone a month earlier.
I know Turfway is usually off the beaten path for a lot of people. I love Keeneland as much as anyone can, but there is something about Turfway that still appeals to me, even though it is a bit of a lesser light in the Kentucky circuit. I know it isn’t even usually the track that comes to my mind when I think racing in Kentucky, explaining why this was only my second visit in the nearly 11 years I have lived in Kentucky. The other visit was when Street Sense and Hard Spun raced each other one fall day years ago, with a thrillingly close photo finish giving the nod to Hard Spun in the Kentucky Cup Classic Stakes. As a long-time racing fan who basically grew up watching D. Wayne Lukas on TV, it also thrilled me to be standing on the balcony overlooking the track at one point and suddenly be right next to the famous trainer. I know it sounds rather starstruck of me, but I was just a bit in awe then to be right next to him. And looking back on Saturday, the 22nd, I think that is part of the appeal of Turfway. It has a laidback atmosphere and it is a bit easier to rub elbows with the jockeys and the trainers. They come through the crowd without being as blocked off or trailed by security.
I still see this somewhat through the eyes of a racing fan, though I have one foot in the door of becoming a racing journalist. It is always nice to feel the sport and its participants are more accessible, up to a point. Also, I took my nephew to his first visit to the track last year, and he loved it. One of the highlights for him besides seeing several champion runners was when one of the jockeys gave him a pair of goggles. That kind of interaction makes a difference, so I see accessibility through that lens now too. Going to the races with him that day helped me see the sport through fresh eyes. I love racing as much as I always have, but a new perspective is still refreshing.
Speaking of accessible, I attended with a friend and a new acquaintance who works for Keeneland, giving her credentials for going into the paddock. Perhaps they had gone into the paddock together earlier, but for a while I hung out by the rail and watched the races on my own. As the day went on and it got colder, I was more inclined to be in the grandstand and we all watched together. It was such a brisk wind that blew in that I barely got any photos of the fillies in the Bourbonette Stakes. Yet we did go into the paddock for the Spiral Stakes, the only race I went in the paddock for. Ironically, that was the time that Big Bazinga briefly broke free of his handlers and had a little run around before being caught. But for a moment it was a bit scary to see him loose and not sure where he was going. I think he was less inclined to run wild than he could have been, since he was caught so quickly. But you just never know where a loose horse might go, and I had been looking for an escape route! But it wasn’t necessary, and luckily there was no injury to him, the other horses, or any people around.
As far as horses in the paddock that impressed me most, I loved the arched neck of Smart Cover, who was on his toes, and We Miss Artie really stood out with all his dapples. He looks amazing, and ended up getting the race right on the wire.
It was great to be back at the track at last, and whetted my appetite for more. Luckily, Keeneland is not too far off now.