I visited Gainsborough today on a new Horse Country tour, offering a chance to see the farm’s mares and foals. In fact, it was the first ever tour for Horse Country to see the mares and foals there. I arrived a little early and chatted with the tour guides, never expecting Dan Pride to stop by and offer me an Essential Quality hat as a gift for being the first visitor of this tour. That was so kind and unexpected. He even asked if I didn’t mind he’d worn it once. I certainly didn’t – I have an array of horse hats only to display, not wear. Also, Essential Quality won the first Belmont I ever attended and I even thought that Dan Pride had once worn the hat and offered it made it an even neater bit of racing memorabilia for my collection.

Then the other tour guests arrived, and we saw the barns that had housed stallions before they moved to Darley at Jonabell, including one barn that had never housed a horse since they did move over to that farm after it was built. The former breeding shed had lifesize fiberglass horses depicting Elusive Quality and Quiet American, since it was in that location that Real Quiet and Smarty Jones were conceived.

Across from the breeding shed was the barn Elusive Quality and Quiet American resided in while the property had stallions.

The tour guide told us that they expect about 62 foals this year, and approximately half of the mares go to Darley stallions and half go to outside stallions. They have an adviser who matches the mares to stallions on pedigree as well as conformation, hoping for that ideal foal. After that, we went to meet some new arrivals and their dams.

Delightful Quality and her colt, a full sibling to Essential Quality, shared a paddock with another mare and foal. Her colt did not seem like he would be gray like his Belmont winning sibling.

He was not shy about company, but a filly in another pasture took the prize for being most gregarious. Her dam is fine, but had colicked after she gave birth and had to have surgery, so her filly is with a nurse mare.

One of the broodmare barn staff mentioned that foals with nurse mares get so much attention they always expect it, and this filly certainly did! She actually did seem to be showing off when she raced around the paddock, and also tried to stretch her neck as far through the fence as she could to be scratched and patted.

The mares affectionately called “the Golden Girls” have their own field, all being retired from having foals, with a few mares more due to join them after having their foals this year. This field includes Away (Eight Belles’ dam), Bedazzle (who one visitor said apparently is the oldest living dam of a Derby winner), and Hatoof, who is 33.

Walking through the foaling barn, we met a filly who was less than 12 hours old. The chart outside her stall noted that her dam, a half sister to Street Sense, foaled standing up.

After the Gainsborough visit, I stopped by Keeneland. Preparations were under way for the upcoming meet, some of the trees are in bloom, and the Breeders’ Cup statue stood sentinel again.

While this day was chilly, these are definite signs spring is trying to take hold!