We didn’t exactly choose a day most suited for it, but yesterday our little family opted for a little journey south to horse country. Southwestern Ohio is a liminal place, butting up against Indiana and Kentucky both, with deep seeded relationships to both. I have a soft spot for Kentucky as it is where most of the known history of my kin comes from and I spent a lot of time there as a kid, romping amidst the hills and hollers.
And so, on a very wet day we set forth to Keeneland to enjoy a day at the races. As we traveled, the landscape became greener and greener, as Lexington is just that much ahead of us in the race toward spring time blooming. The wild redbud and dogwood trees rushed past us. The mists hung low over the hills too. As the rain pelted our windshield, we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into!
Fairly soon we had arrived at this amazing horse racing facility and the weather softened to drizzle. I was still glad I had worn my wellies.
We settled in and had a look around. The place was all abuzz with horses, along with their owners, trainers and handlers readying for the next race.
So much at stake for those involved. But the horses didn’t seem to care about stakes. They just wanted to run. I asked our friends there, who know horses and the racing of them, whether the horses seem to understand the idea of racing. And the answer was, if you watch these animals in the fields, outside of all the pageantry of the racing world, they spend their days in the fields together running and chasing each other. They are highly intelligent and competitive. Adding people to the mix is just our human layer of understanding on their very real sense of day to day animal play.
Before each race, the horses are walked around so betters can get a look at them and the horses can warm up a bit. Then they head into another area where they are paired with their jockeys.
There are many escorts to keep everything in order and happening on time. On this day, there were 8 races total! One flowed quickly into the next.
Of course there is much speculation as to which horse, piloted by which jockey, will be able to win each race. And each race is different. Some are run on grass for over a mile. Other races are on the dirt track and may be a bit shorter. Each horse and each jockey may shine in different situations. One farrier we met who hails from Ireland, said on this green, wet day, his bets would have to be on the Irish jockeys who felt right at home in these conditions.
But everyone has their system. We had a lot to learn about it all.
Eventually though, you just have to pony up and set your money down on something. And so we did.
The races all seemed to flow together in my mind. I wasn’t betting or looking at the numbers. It was simply all so much just to take in! But as the day went on, and the races continued, everyone in our group had a winning bet or two to show for their efforts.
One does not go to the races and simply sit down in a seat to watch. It is a very active thing. There is a lot of back and forth between the viewing of the horses coming up and those currently racing and of course the betting. There is occasionally a cocktail too. Although the races are quickly over, there is still some time amongst the rush of things to explore a bit. I was curious about the tunnel which the jockeys take their horses through to enter the official race track and asked if I could take a picture of it between races.
The answer was not only yes to the tunnel picture (photo credit to my Hub, Tony), but a kind invitation to walk down through the tunnel to have a peek at the track as the horses and jockeys see it on race day. This sweet Kentucky gentleman escorted me down to meet his ‘hard-working cohorts’ hanging out in the winner’s circle.
These guys clearly have a great time at their job at Keeneland and I was thrilled to meet them and get a sense of the scope of the place.
Just like that, this day of racing was over. We are fortunate that our horse loving friends, Dan and Bev of Liam’s Fancy, are also musicians so we joined them at their place for a cookout and some tunes.
What a day! We were eventually chased inside by thunderstorms rolling in sideways for a few more tunes before we had to make the journey home. Our cup filled with the imagery, passion and pageantry of high-end horse racing. It all felt a world away, which I think is the case when we allow ourselves to go deep enough into something with a rich history. This was only my second time to Keeneland, but I want to go back again and learn more, perhaps on a dry weekday when I can sketch it all in my sketchbook. Many thanks to Dan and Bev who not only helped us navigate the statistics catalog at the races, but who opened their home for tunes and hot dogs of all kinds afterward.
(This is Dash, who fetches like it’s his job.)