Stepping outside in the early morning hours of September 1, it was surprising that a morning as misty as that one did not hold a chill but rather an intense humidity, later described by an on-site analyst at Churchill Downs about 80 miles from me as being like a rainforest. As Kentucky Derby and Oaks contenders took to the track for their designated training times, the analyst helped set the scene for the environment to anyone tuning into the live broadcast. In this unorthodox year that has seen many plans and events scrapped or reorganized, that broadcast became the primary way most interested parties would witness the march to the Derby on its new September 5th date. As I heard the rainforest description, I thought back to feeling that same humidity borne of mist and a rain that came and went.
Earlier in the summer, I bought a share in Authentic through MyRacehorse, unable to resist the chance after a near-lifelong interest in racing to have even a small ownership interest in a Kentucky Derby contender. It was incredible to realize, after he won the Haskell, how much more exciting a victory for a favored is when one has bought into that horse. MyRacehorse has put a dream within reach.
Since the announcement that no spectators will be allowed at this year’s Derby or at any of the prelude events leading up to it, such as Dawn at the Downs, the live broadcast of training became my link to tracking Authentic and the appearance of the rest of the contenders and how they appeared to be coming into the race. And that is why I liked the little comment about the rainforest-like humidity for I was close enough to Authentic to feel the same atmosphere he did, and that is a common thread besides the ownership share when I could not be there in person to watch his progress to the Derby. And at this stage, it does not matter that I can’t. Like his Haskell win having more significance for being a shareholder, his every step to the Derby makes this one even more enticing for me, even as the race has always been a highlight in any year. And that is a revelation that nothing one reads or sees about anyone who has ownership in these athletes can ever glean the full import of until it is experienced.
I have seen Authentic’s naysayers and those of MyRacehorse, as well. In a year that is challenging for many and beacons of hope and fun are much-needed, it is not worthwhile to address those. All I will say is a horse is more than the sum of a controversial trainer–he is everyone connected with him who holds the dream of what he may be and achieve and what drew them to him in the first place. And Ned Toffey of Spendthrift, the farm that supports MyRacehorse strongly by making some of their auction purchases available for micro shares, had a wonderful thought recently about why entities like MyRacehorse matter, which meshes well with what I myself have seen just in a short time of investment (my other and first investment with MyRacehorse is a 2-year-old who is not yet ready to race). Toffey spoke of it as an incentive, with a dream made accessible that may not have been without the micro share model, to bring in more people to racetracks to see their horses run and have them bring their family or friends and spend more revenue directly on track concessions. While it will take more than that to increase track attendance overall, I appreciate that line of thought to add one more possibility to bringing people to tracks for racing’s sake and that is another aspect of MyRacehorse worth embracing, along with their commitment to aftercare and their dedication to giving every shareholder inclusion and exclusive experiences. It is far better than the casino model, for even if that may add to the purse structure, it is not bringing people to the track for racing, and I have seen studies that show casinos at racetracks have seen the tracks as competitors.
Since this is a Derby week where no spectators will be allowed (and I did not feel comfortable with Derby attendance in this year when mass gatherings are discouraged by the CDC), I had planned to attend Dawn at the Downs and possibly racing on the first day of September, if it had not been too crowded. But when that was scrapped along with Derby attendance, I wanted to do something horse-related in this week all about the horse and love of racing.
Old Friends Farm was welcoming visitors only for Derby week, though they had shut down for tours at any other time preceding it aside from a short span in summer, and would again after this week. With Derby winner Silver Charm, new arrivals The Pizza Man and Work All Week, and several other horses I like to interact with, it was the perfect place to go.
Michael Blowen did not conduct all the tours but I chose the one he did conduct, and when I left the farm, something he said during it resonated with me. He loves to spend time with the horses in his care and will often race them along their fence lines. As a few of the horses in pastures in pairs raced each other and exulted in it, he spoke of how he used to think betting was so fun but nothing beats watching them run for the sheer joy of it, and play in their fields. To me, that is what drives the love of racing, the horse at the core of it all. And I loved hearing that sentiment in a week when everything racing gets a spotlight even among those who don’t typically give it any thought.
Later that day, I went to Megson Farms, home of the largest group of white Thoroughbreds. The tour guide was not the farm owner, as usual, but a man who runs his own horse-related tour company and his enthusiasm for the horse was evident too. A young horse in a paddock alone kept racing around, stirring up some mares in an adjacent paddock, who thundered over the hills, and the tour guide spoke of how that is the best sound. I agreed, thinking back to quiet times at tracks, during morning training or when in a spot where the roar of the crowd is muffled, and the beat of hooves is like the beat of a heart, elemental and all the more thrilling for being heard in mono. It came back to the horse alone, the core of racing.
So while there is no Derby attendance for most this year, aside from officials, media, and the essential people from the barns of horses entered (I have not heard the protocol for horse owners), it was wonderful to have those moments this week of connection and appreciation for the horse. And I still feel connected to what is happening at Churchill with all the effort the track is making to be inclusive, with live streams and even giveaways, plus the added element of MyRaceHorse content for Authentic shareholders.
Just like feeling the shared experience realizing Authentic was training in the same atmosphere I felt the first day of September, those live streams will bring the Derby to me and many others, and I find my excitement for it is not diminished one bit.
While Authentic faces formidable competition in Tiz the Law, and Honor AP and Thousand Words are intriguing to me, the draw of the race is with so many entrants and the stories behind them, it is always compelling to see how it actually plays out when the gates open and the race begins to unfurl. I know for sure Authentic is a legitimate contender and whatever may be on that first Saturday in September, I will never forget how exciting it was to watch his foray through this week as a microshare owner.