When Keeneland began their fall meet this year on October 2, the stage was set for another stellar group of horses and prestigious races to get underway, sweeping towards the track’s second Breeders’ Cup about a month later. And yet, even with months of most racing in Kentucky and around the country being conducted without spectators, it seemed no less surreal to watch the meet go day by day with almost no one present around the paddock rails or trackside. Part of that is that the stage was indeed set, with temporary seating installed all along the track apron, in a practically empty facility. The other component was that October has long been synonymous with going to Keeneland for myself and many others in this region and also from around the country, and there was the expectation of going about each day as though Keeneland was not running. Of course, that’s a minor thing in the scheme of all that is happening currently, and the main thing is they are able to race. Yet as it also is their first meet of the year of the usual duration, it can strike over and over when a great race goes off or a favorite horse runs about the pang of not being present. Another unusual element in this topsy turvy year is their second day of the meet, the lauded FallStars Weekend, ran smack against the Preakness and its riveting showdown between Authentic and Swiss Skydiver, who gave a textbook demonstration of what a grand race is as well showcasing the heart of athletes bred for centuries to run and have a competitive fire burning in them.
But once that was done, the final Triple Crown race of the season, Keeneland shone brightest on the racing calendar during the time of its meet, as it always does. The fall colors were glorious. The horses looked magnificent. Unable to resist wanting photographs as I always do during the meets, I settled for screenshots from the live stream of horses that captured my eye.
Keeneland had its own riveting race to file as an exemplary example of what racing can be, as Aunt Pearl set a stakes record October 7 in the JP Chase Morgan Jessamine Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, Got Stormy charged down the turf course in the final strides to capture the Buffalo Trace Franklin County October 9, and American Pharoah filly Harvey’s Little Goil became her sire’s first Grade 1 winner after catching the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, after leading from the start along with another of her sire’s runners, Sweet Melania, who inexplicably faded to last. Given that I have followed American Pharoah’s progeny avidly, it stung a bit to know those two were running and I couldn’t attend, especially after she became his first Grade 1 winner. But like so much about this year, accepting what we cannot change is the order of the day. There was another moment of seeing someone from Keeneland share the stretch run from their vantage point near the winners’ circle, hearing the crescendo of the track announcer’s voice rise as the field neared the wire, that was electric and drove a fresh longing to be on-site. Yet, then I realized even more I was grateful they shared that video, for it put me as thoroughly in the moment at the track as was possible then.
Keeneland and all the horsemen soldier on, and so shall we through this unprecedented time. Their dedication to the sport has proven already, while this meet is still young, that though it is not racing as usual, it is no less racing as it was meant to be. They always live up to that motto to the fullest. I’m sure it will be inevitable to get the longing to attend to strike now and then and for the Breeders’ Cup too. It’s only natural after my attendance streak extended all the way back to the fall 2005 meet, until this year. And yet I know their first priority is to the horsemen and the horses, with all else being secondary to being able to conduct the meet that makes their livelihood possible. The rest will follow, from being able to wager off-site to watching via live streams and one day they will welcome us back and it will be even sweeter than it is after the usual 6-month hiatus between meets.
This will be updated.