Today would have been the opening day of Keeneland’s spring meet, an annual highlight not only in Lexington but throughout the racing world.
It also became one of the race meets that had to give way to a new reality, and Keeneland has always been concerned about the community they operate in, giving back in every way possible, and this mission was highlighted again in them canceling the meet entirely, citing that even after considering every safeguard that could be taken, they could not guarantee the horses’ grooms would be able to stay healthy even with limited attendance and no spectators, had racing been held.
I recently learned that, while many places have had to close their doors as Keeneland has shuttered the meet that would have begun today, to my surprise the Horse Park is still allowing visitors free of charge provided they do not attempt to feed the horses and maintain a safe distance from other people on the grounds.
It sounded like a perfect way to mark what would have been a day to revel in the racing tradition if this had been a year like any other.
It still seems surreal at times to see businesses dark as I drive to and from work, to see traffic so light, and so it was to see many more stalls than usual empty at the Horse Park and the grounds nearly empty and silent.
But one thing that has come forth from all of this, is hearing bird songs, seeing the sun rise and set, the trees and flowers erupt in spring beauty and it sends the heart soaring.
This is not to make light of what is happening around the world, of the suffering or sorrow this pandemic has brought to many lives.
But there is still hope and joy to be found, and it is to be found in the places where we can remain safe and still enjoy the beauty of this world.
The Horse Park was a perfect place to visit to find all those things, and to also reflect on what horses can mean to people.
When there is uncertainty in the world, we still can step outside, where the air is clear and worry will not intrude if we focus on what is around. In fact, appreciation for this and finding a place where there is a chance not to be concerned about such things seemed to heighten my focus.
I seemed to see the statue of Secretariat near the Horse Park’s visitor center as though it were the first time. I noticed the fire in his stance, his open mouth, every line captured and showing a grand horse, the epitome of racing fit, and even the chain that was clipped to his bridle seemed as real as if it were not cast in bronze but was in fact the true object. And it was even more fitting to pause and appreciate how his essence was fully captured in that statue, for a few days ago it was the fiftieth anniversary of his foaling.
Walking on to what I had planned to be my first stop before Secretariat’s statue caught my eye freshly, was Cigar’s resting place. I even saw the link between him and Secretariat, for the latter was the horse of my mom’s lifetime, one that another could never compare to, and Cigar fills the same role for me.
As I reflected on what Cigar had meant to me (and that he would have reached his thirtieth birthday on April 18), and caught the sweet scent of the white flowers that flanked the small statue that was also him through-and-through, I was filled with joy at the thought of him. It rose in me unexpectedly and I was glad to feel it.
Once it had been hard to stand near that pasture, knowing I would never again see the bay horse with the unique blaze, but what matters, now that time has ebbed away grief, is that he lived and I was fortunate to get to be in his presence. And that is where the joy came from, and what a grand legacy to leave.
Nearby, Funny Cide and Point Given grazed, in side by side pastures. I took a few moments to watch them both. Simple pleasures again. The peace of bird song. The calm and stillness of being in the presence of horses. The appreciation for Point Given that rippled through me as I reflected on his racing career.
I paused again by Secretariat’s statue on the way out to read the inscriptions on the stones all around it. It is moving to read what these horses meant to people. They do give us hope and joy and peace that stays with us, as well as thrills from their racing days. And sometimes thrills of a different kind, like getting to know them one-on-one.
While we are adjusting to a new normal, the rhythm of the days and seasons are the same and nature is a peaceful respite. It was not the day it would have been with top horses racing for glory at the showcase that is Keeneland, but it was still good. And that is what I seek now, to mind the guidelines for staying well and find the peace in the midst of uncertainty. It is there to find for those who know where to look, and I am grateful the Horse Park is such a place.