Scenes from downtown Lexington and Keeneland, in advance of the Breeders’ Cup November 6 and 7
While the Breeders’ Cup advance celebration had to be more muted than in 2015, Lexington still commemorated the return of the championships that center around one of its signature industries. I found it a bit comical, actually, that the celebration switched to being so low-key that even as much as I had been following along with Breeders’ Cup news, it caught me unaware that a fireworks display near downtown November 1 was to kick off Breeders’ Cup week. In fact, given that streets were blocked off, it even made me late to work and I was not the only Lexington resident who wondered what the fireworks were for. Certainly if it had been more widely publicized I’d have taken an alternate route to work!
That ended up being the only public aspect of the Breeders’ Cup besides watching the horses train a week prior to the Saturday card that I experienced. My Racehorse, minority owners of Classic contender Authentic, held a lottery for microshare holders to attend. While I did not get chosen, it was wonderful they were able to to accommodate some of the people who jumped in on that amazing ride, thanks to Keeneland working with them to allow access.
I greatly enjoyed watching the horses train during the live feed from the designated training time for Breeders’ Cup-bound entrants. It did have the slight effect of the pang of not being able to be on-site. That is not a complaint – I acknowledge and appreciate how much effort Keeneland put into prodcution for everyone who had to be off-site to bring the event and lead-up to it to them as much as possible. The pang came from it being natural that after years of goign to the rack and watching standout horses train and race, it is inevitable to feel that even after months of live events being largely off-limits. But enough of that!
Besides surprise fireworks on November 1, Bob Baffert trainee Improbable worked in California before shipping to Kentucky, and trainer Brad Cox’s entrants shipped from Churchill Downs to Keeneland.
On November 2, Keeneland’s main track was frozen. It was not encased in ice, but the cold temperatures overnight had created a mass of solid clumps of the dirt that didn’t respond to the efforts of maintenance attempts to make it suitable to train over until later in the morning. Because of that, the training track saw a lot of the action, its Polytrack base being more immune to effects of cold weather.
Later, Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver were able to take to the main track to train for the first time on-site in their Breeders” Cup preparations. Both looked spectacular, and Monomoy Girl was on the muscle. It was evident how she has matured since the last time I saw her.
The post position draw was also held that day.
On November 3, Swiss Skydiver went out to train in the darkness of pre-sunrise hours. A few horses (European entrants?) went to the training track, and Monomoy Girl made a second appearance on-site.
Bob Baffert’s horses arrived from California, among them his trio for the Classic: Authentic, Improbable, and Maximum Security. Much like Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver, Authentic looked spectacular.
On November 4, Ollie’s Candy and Princess Noor trained, a few I had not had a glimpse of yet, and Improbable was the first of Baffert’s Classic contenders to make an appearance on the track, around 7 a.m. Monomoy Girl showed up shortly after. She moved comfortably in a strong run, showing an eagerness to do more than the rider let her.
Tacitus, Knicks Go, American Pharoah’s first Grade 1 winner Harvey’s Lil Goil, Tiz the Law, Maximum Security, Gamine, and Authentic were several of the other well-known runners who were sent out to stretch their legs two days before the Breeders’ Cup kicked off.
Authentic had his head bowed slightly as he made his way over the track, and he too moved comfortably. His coat gleamed, spotted through the filtered orange of autumn colors on the trees. It was evident he wanted to run freely, yet he still moved easily down the lane while on a short rein, striding out with great reach. I watched again this colt I’ve been fortunate to have a part of, and could see in his responsiveness to the rider in slowing to a trot when asked, though he wanted to do more, how much he has matured from the time his inexperience still showed a little in the Haskell.
Bob Baffert praised Keeneland for its surface, better in his estimation than Santa Anita’s. Of 2020 Kentucky Derby winner Authentic, Baffert said, “He shipped great, handled everything… We took him out today for a little spin around the racetrack and he looked like his usual self, spring-loaded, ready to do something. And I’m really happy with the way he shipped and he ate well here. So far everything’s good. He’s right on schedule.”
Referencing that “spring-loaded” aspect of Authentic’s temperament, later My Racehorse spoke to his exercise rider, and Authentic was the only horse of those in the background that had to have the metal door shut instead of being able to look out over the stall webbing. He was feeling good and full of energy!
Humberto Gomez, Authentic’s exercise rider, commented, “He’s doing so well. The track is not as deep as Santa Anita, so he’s going over the track super nice.
He also reiterated the observation about the colt’s mental and physical growth: “Yeah, Authentic has been maturing a lot. It’s been a long process but he’s such a talented horse and we’re really happy right now how he’s maturing.”
On November 5, Aidan O’ Brien’s string of horses filed to the track, creating the usual stir seeing them all parade one by one in great number. Swiss Skydiver again trained in the darkness and Authentic’s tenacity was on display in his strong-willed desire to be let loose to run more freely.
Trainer Thomas Drury spoke of Art Collector, his Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile contender, relaying an anecdote about a woman who purchased pants his jockey wore once, as part of a fundraiser for Second Stride, which helps rehome retired racehorses. The woman had them framed and on her wall, and Drury mentioned considering them a good luck talisman and asked the woman if she would let them be worn for one more race for the Breeders’ Cup and she agreed.
Given the length of each morning’s shows highlighting the training of the Breeders’ Cup contenders, TVG analysts had ample time to also seek out stories of how getting to these races can be a dream realized in and of itself, even before the race results are known.
One story centered around Breeders’ Cup Sprint entrant Diamond Oops, training up to the race under the tutelage of Andie Biancone, assistant trainer and exercise rider for her father Patrick. She was accompanied by a friend who helped care for “Oops,” as they affectionately referred to the gelding who grazed between them ear his Keeneland barn. It was clear being there for one of racing’s biggest days was a close-knit affair encompassing family and friends, and that “Oops was clearly considered part of the family. It is lovely to see how racehorses can spark grand dreams and hopes.
Speaking of such hopes, jockey Hollie Doyle had a mount on Mighty Gurkha in the Juvenile Turf Sprint, culmination of a grand year riding in Europe and her first ride in the United States. TVG reporter Gabby Gaudet interviewed her from aboard her horse Duke one morning. Doyle seemed enchanted by the experience even ahead of the race day, and perhaps also struck by Keeneland’s touches of glamor and all the natural beauty it has in abundance. She said it had been amazing previously just to watch the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, and to go from that to riding in it.
With that, the preparations were concluded, and it was time for the main event to commence.