Note: as Breeders’ Cup week was such a busy week, this blog post is of events that occurred during the date below but are just now being posted

October 29th, 2015, marked the first day of Keeneland’s extra race dates after the traditional meet ended on the 24th. A large crowd gathered along the whole length of the rail, starting in the pre-dawn hours, to see one of racing’s legends in the making, in action. They waited, of course, for American Pharaoh.

After two nearly non-stop days of rain, to see a glorious sunrise illuminate Keeneland was an even more welcome sight than it normally would have been.


It was a peaceful start to the day, but lingering in the serenity didn’t last long when another photographer checked Twitter and saw Justin Zayat had tweeted that American Pharoah would be making an appearance on the training track instead of the main track where the majority of the public were gathered. Citing safety as the reason, opting not to run him on the track that was mired in mud, the tweet also said he’d appear between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. It was nearly 8 at the time and I wondered if we’d missed him.

I actually called in that I would be late to work to see him. You have to grab these chances, waiting so long for a Triple Crown winner, to see him in action, especially knowing Saturday would be his last race.

They spoke of how Baffert is already feeling a little wistful seeing him leave his California base for the last time. I understand fully not to wanting to take chances with him on the track, or it even being financially feasible from an insurance standpoint, just to talk about the economic aspect; but knowing he’s a homebred for the Zayats, of course there’s the emotional aspect. They want their champ to retire safe and sound, and they have already taken him several places the public wanted to see him after his Crown win and even allowed visitors at the barn to get acquainted with their, by all accounts, sweet horse. Zayat reiterated that in an interview after Pharoah’s Tuesday arrival in Lexington, that in some ways he almost seems like a pet.

While now there is primarily anticipation at seeing him run one more time, I feel a little of that wistfulness creeping in, that this is the last time he will be on a track, after all the waiting to see a horse capture the Crown. Perhaps wistful is not the right word. Perhaps not yet having it sunk in the ride is nearly over is the best way to describe it. But he’s given racing so much, even if we won’t see him run past the age of three, and no matter how he does in Saturday’s Classic, I know those who gathered at the rail just to see him gallop by will have that linger in their memories.

It had been years since I’ve been to a Breeders’ Cup but one thing that I remember so much is how there are so many amazing horses it just feels like overload to anyone who loves racing, but in a good way. Yet I had never been able to see the Breeders’ Cup workouts until this year. It is like Dawn at the Downs but on an even bigger scale due to the sheer number of BC races and entrants. The top horses just keep coming.

At the training track, I was shoulder to shoulder with other Pharoah aficionados and a camaraderie quickly developed as we all identified horses and pat Smokey.

He actually seemed to turn and watch as Pharoah galloped around, leading me to momentarily wonder if he actually recognized his charge as he ran by, and if their bond was that strong. I’d say it’s not impossible.

Pharoah came upon us so suddenly I took a photo first and realized it was him later. He looked so much more muscular and filled out than when I’d last seen him in May. I did read in the Herald Leader he has gained weight recently. He looked in amazing condition and he clearly was eager to run more than he was being allowed, tugging at the bit in his mouth and moving with that fluid effortless stride he’s so known for. I had never seen him this close or long before, and it was a thrill to see him that words can’t describe. I just know what a glow that memory is and how lucky I’ll feel I got to be there for those moments in the glow of morning before this kind of access will be harder to have. The beauty and precision of his stride and its long reach was even more evident as we watched a video one woman’s husband, a videographer, had taken of Pharoah. Filmed in slow motion, it was mesmerizing how smoothly he moves. Seeing his gallop slowed down makes it even clearer what an incredible athlete he is and again how fortunate we all were to be there that one golden morning with him.

We also saw Lava Man accompanying several horses to the track, including a Breeders’ Cup
entrant, Land Over Sea.

Lava Man accompanies a racehorse to the track (not Land Over Sea)

Lava Man accompanies a racehorse to the track (not Land Over Sea)

The look in Lava Man’s eyes was captivating. It was the look of a champion, one that time never diminishes. To see him up close was just as wonderful as seeing some of the Breeders’ Cup horses. He certainly made his mark on the sport, after all.


Lava Man

Lava Man

Lava Man

Lava Man

Beholder was just leaving the training track as I arrived, and later The Pizza Man and top jockey Florent Geroux took a few circuits around the track. My friend talked with him a little about The Pizza Man, and he paused with a friendly smile to chat. He seemed truly nice and gregarious.

The Pizza Man and and Florent Geroux

In fact, when looking at my photos later, I noticed a lot of exercise riders smiling and seeming to enjoy being able to share their mounts with all the people excited to see them. It must have been an amazing feeling to know they and their charges are making it to such a huge race. I imagine it must feel that way for anyone associated with a horse to know they have earned a spot in the Breeders’ Cup. That feeling is mirrored by those of us on the opposite side of the rail, thinking it just as incredible to see every one of these Breeders’ Cup horses.

That morning there seemed to be luck all around. The weather was perfect, and quite a few of us had made it to the right track to see Pharoah. A woman my friend introduced me to on the rainy Wednesday, the day we first hoped to see Pharoah on the track, had come from Florida just to see the champion in the morning. She wouldn’t even be staying for the Cup; she just wanted to see him with her own eyes at least once. Luck was on her side, too, as she and I watched him move with his perfect precision that Thursday morning when conditions were so much more ideal.


And not long after he galloped and went back to the barn, another woman who had been nearby found a horseshoe in the grass. Luck really was very present, and it turned out to be a sign of things to come for a great Breeders’ Cup for myself, my friends, and so many of the horses’ connections.

It was hard to drag myself away from the track, especially on a sun-splashed morning, but I told myself I had seen what I hoped to see and work beckoned. Before I left, I went by the main track just in time to see Stephanie’s Kitten beginning to warm up. She was a stunning sight and I had to get a photo of her.

Stephanie's Kitten

Stephanie’s Kitten

I heard the unfortunate news later about Beholder scratching from the Classic due to blood found in her lungs. It was a shame. As much as I was in Pharoah’s camp, I had been looking forward to seeing her bring a top race with her. She deserved that chance, but of course her health matters most.

I worked all day Friday, the first day of Keeneland’s first Breeders’ Cup but it was on my mind. I saved up my experience for Breeders’ Cup Saturday, having run through all my paid time off due to attending other Breeders’ Cup events during the week. My turn would come to experience a Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland and to see the first time a Triple Crown winner races in the Classic. However Pharoah places in the race, it is amazing to think I will see that occur. That is history in and of itself, even beyond Keeneland hosting their first Breeders’ Cup.

All is set for the Cup

All is set for the Cup




That's it for me until Saturday! A peaceful scene as I leave the track....

That’s it for me until Breeders’ Cup Saturday! A peaceful scene as I leave the track….