Light snow flurries swept around Keeneland Racecourse as heavily bundled riders, only their eyes visible, worked horses on the training track. Their breath streamed out like twin plumes of smoke while on the hill above them, horses of all ages – from the heavily in foal to the race-fit to the “short” yearlings – were on display for buyers.
One attraction of the Keeneland sales for me, besides getting to take photos in one of my favorite places in the world, is seeing horses I watched race or followed from afar. Some of these horses may have only made a small splash in the racing world, but still lingered in my mind.
Black Onyx is one such horse. I last saw him in April 2013 and took the photo below when he was working out in advance of the Kentucky Derby during Dawn at the Downs. He was every bit as stunning as I had heard.
While he didn’t make it into the Kentucky Derby that year and has been lightly raced since then, seeing an advertisement featuring him as an offering at this year’s January sale prompted me to go take a look and get more photos of this stunning horse. He didn’t really look much different, to my untrained eye. Perhaps he had filled out a little or grown taller, but other than that he was pretty much as I remembered. He didn’t make a huge mark on racing, but I still jumped at the chance to see him again. I am just compelled to get certain photos, and this was one of those times.
After a brief re-acquaintance with Black Onyx, I went down the road a bit to Calumet to see their stallions.
I only made it to one open house this month, but if it was only going to be one, Calumet was ideal. It was only my second lifetime visit there, and their stallion roster had changed completely since my first visit. When I was ushered into the breeding shed with its heat lamp to wait for the stallions to be brought out, the stallion manager actually remembered me and we chatted a little about what brought me there the first time and how I now am actually on the road to having a career in the Thoroughbred industry. It’s funny, sometimes, how much can change in the course of a year or two. All along the way to earning my Equine Management degree, I’ve gone through several ideas of what I wanted to do with my professional life upon graduation, and finally the right choice almost fell into my lap. I think of then, when I had the ideas of what I wanted to do but wasn’t entirely sure they were right, or how I’d make them work. And it was inevitable to compare it to now, when I know for sure what I am going to do and that it will work, that it is what I was meant to do. That is one of the biggest benefits of this degree – that it clarified my career path and let me find it and explore other paths before my earning power depended on it. I don’t have to settle.
But I digress: back to seeing the stallions.
It was great to see Point Given again. It had been a while, and he’s been one of my favorites since his racing days when I cheered him on in his Preakness and Belmont.
And even while Calumet is undergoing a revitalization of sorts, these simple plaques on the stall doors are lingering reminders of all the name of that farm already means, and what a force they’ve already been in the Thoroughbred world.
Oxbow seemed like a particularly laid-back, sweet horse. I was pleased as well with the images I got, as I continue to learn the ropes with my SLR camera. He is an interesting photographic subject just as Black Onyx is. What draws my eye to him is the variations in his coat color, the gray flecked throughout his otherwise bay shading, and the little tuft of mane I seem to recall standing up just the same way when I saw him at Taylor Made a little while back.
That concluded my Calumet visit. I had not realized how much I missed doing horse activities. Sometimes that gets lost in the rush of life and school, to do the things I most enjoy.
In fact, having had that time to reconnect with some horses I like, and see some new ones up close, it reminded me all over again how great it is to live here in the heart of a major Thoroughbred breeding center and to get to know those horses beyond the TV screen or the newspaper articles.
It is fitting too, then, that today I read about an initiative of quite a few farms in this region to open their doors to more visitors and let them experience all of this as well. I was excited to hear of that plan. Horses brought me here from another state, and I still remember how unbelievable it felt to have access to all these major farms and be allowed to visit their stallions. To move here from a non-racing state and suddenly be living in the midst of all the horses I had grown up following, and even better, be welcomed to visit them…. It felt like a dream come true.
So that’s wonderful there is a major plan underway to open the doors to more and more people, as much as a working farm can. It is almost like a dream to move through these luxurious farms and connect with the horses that live there, even briefly. It’s a great respite from everyday life, and to some extent I still feel what I felt during my first Lexington visit all those years ago every time I step onto a farm. It is great that even more people will now get to know that side of Lexington, all the charm and history and the truly unique opportunity to see these champions.