Halloween day dawned with a frosty chill across the ground, and brilliant fall colors illuminating the trees. The meet at Keeneland had ended a week ago, and the grounds were beginning to be transformed further for the upcoming Breeders’ Cup. Signage at the entrance bade a welcome to the two-day event, and temporary trailers for media were all around, as were workers laying cable to power the trailers. There was an expectant hush in the air, amplified by the chill, and not long after my arrival Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law ran along the outside rail accompanied by a stable pony before breaking free and running down the length of the stretch. He was easily identifiable even before he left the shadow of the pony, with his distinctive large blaze serving like a calling card of personal characteristics.
When he ran over the course a few moments later, he presented a relaxed demeanor and moved fluidly and comfortably, appearing to have taken to the Lexington track well. I’m no expert on horse works and how they can bode for possible race performance, which still seems like it can have a multitude of intangibles, but body language is easy to read when observed. Tiz the Law’s strongly suggested a maturity and a readiness for the race, the grace with which he moved showcasing his level of fitness while also providing a camouflage for the power underneath waiting to be uncoiled on race day.
Across the country, his Derby conqueror Authentic took to the track as the training hours began to wind down in Kentucky. Authentic was barely discernible in what still appeared to be the dark of night as he moved around the track. I paused to watch this horse I bought a micro share in prior to the Haskell, who’s taken me on an amazing journey, but who I have yet to see in the flesh given pandemic protocols. With it being unknown if seeing him on a track will be in the cards for me before he retires, I liked the serendipity of being at Keeneland and watching him train even remotely, for in a sense it was seeing him train at this track when that won’t occur in reality. He will arrive at Keeneland when it is off-limits again to the general public, but I will enjoy his journey regardless.
It was wonderful to be back at Keeneland and see its trees in crimson and gold, and a lovely blue sky and white clouds brushed across its palette as the sun rose, nature’s canvas breathtakingly glorious… I reveled in the moment, both the time at the track that has woven itself into part of me, the serenity it exudes, and also what racing has brought to my life. Moments like these resonate even more when taking place in a year where they’ve been seldom experienced.
It was five years ago on this date that Keeneland’s first Breeders’ Cup, a grand celebration so aptly billed as a homecoming, culminated gloriously in American Pharoah’s tour-de-force in the Classic. And it was a year ago that I arrived in California, making my way to Santa Anita for a day of racing ahead of the first Breeders’ Cup day. Echoes of racing past and what grand days of competition and horses like few others can spark in the imagination and the excitement they can stir that is beyond words…
I walked away from the track to seek Keeneland’s signature bread pudding from the track kitchen while access was allowed, and came across a Breeders’ Cup merchandise tent. I loved that discovery, and getting a little of the experience of the championship event on this day since it is likely to be off-limits to me as it will be to most. That will not matter as much, I know now. For it is how it must be and today was such a jolt of appreciation for the track and to bask in the unique atmosphere of Keeneland that always leaves me restored on quiet mornings like those when its elegance shines most, and the horses are the centerpiece.
Yet there’s no denying how thrilling it is when top horses compete directly against one another and it is time to look ahead to the grand performances that will play out on this track in less than a week’s time.
Today truly did feel like a second homecoming, to a place where access has been sporadic, and it will no doubt have reflections of the first Breeders’ Cup they had, with another quality field expected to contest the Classic, and several standout fillies in contention, as well as the promise of juveniles and what they may be going forward, and the cadre of standouts in between. This year’s Breeders’ Cup will surely be as stellar as Keeneland’s first one was.
After leaving the track, I made a stop to visit the gravesite of a horse of yesteryear, Bull Dog, on the grounds of Carnahan House. It felt fitting to pay homage to a horse that had his influence on the breed leading into a week highlighting what such contributions can generate with the championship races on the horizon.
I concluded the day’s horse activities with a stop at the Kentucky Horse Park, to view a display of items related to Man o’ War’s life.