… about a Kentucky morning. Sun yawning awake, a clean vibrating light, mist skimming the bluegrass, and long miles of board fence. Times past, fencing always stood white but these days it’s often creosote brown.
Amble down to a race track and the scene morphs into something other worldly. Shapes, shrouded and gauzy, materialize before you through an ethereal fog. Muffled, rhythmic pounding slides into your consciousness. Horses snort in cadence, breath smoking in air, canter pass before vanishing down track.
In these brief moments, you are witness to the sorting out of greatness, the separating of winners, the training of athletes destined for a brief glory flash or a page in racing annals.
“. . . Down row, a groom slipped an exercise saddle off a tall chestnut back from workout. Horse lowered his head for the halter and the pair turned toward a wash stand. Sweat and saddle marks melted as water splashed against his copper red coat. The colt shook himself. Droplets jumped into the air, hung in a bright halo, and disappeared in the time it took to draw a breath. The sharp tapping noise of a farrier’s hammer vibrated. In the distance, a dog barked. Veterinarians, eyes narrowed, moved in medicinal smelling whispers from horse to horse. The green odor of alfalfa and horse musk floated in the air.” – excerpt from short story “The Stooper”
First Saturday in May traditionally starts that glory flash or historical page when the Kentucky Derby is run at Churchill Downs. Two short weeks later the second race of greatness, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Maryland, is run with the Belmont Stakes at Elmont Park in New York only three weeks following. The Derby, Preakness, and Belmont together comprise the Triple Crown, the most prized racing trophy in the United States. IF you win all three.
Since 1919 only eleven horses have captured the elusive Crown. While there are many paths into thoroughbred racing annals, these three races are the best known path.
A whispered prayer among horsemen: If only one race can be won, Lord please make it the Derby.
Lime fed grass and thoroughbreds, dulcimer music and handcrafted objects, well-heeled high rollers and hardscrabble mountain folk juxtaposed, lend an abiding richness to the state.
But face it folks, it’s the many shades and nuances of the equine industry that tugs you irrevocably into the foaling sheds, expansive breeding farms, training tedium, racing tracks, and the betting window. Sometimes, for a few, maybe into the winner’s circle.