Everyone faces adversity and challenge in their life, but we all have a defense mechanism. When things are too complicated or chaotic, we go to a place - mentally or physically - that brings us peace.
Things can get pretty frenetic in my life. Six dogs, horses and chickens, a kitten with leukemia and a large, old farmhouse. Not to mention the family visits I long for and the traffic in Atlanta, my current home base, that I abhor. Lexington, Kentucky does it for me. Keeneland is my "happy place".
I arrived just as dawn was breaking on the first Friday in April, to meet my friend, Amy Tremper and to explore the barns. I met Amy a couple of years ago, on the "Chrome Trail", as we both supported and cheered for champion California Chrome in the final year of his racing career, and became fast friends. She and her husband, Steve, have been in Lexington for over a year, and I was excited to get to have some time with her.
Keeneland's spring meet has a reputation for being unpredictable. Two years ago, I stood in the rain. This morning I faced relatively moderate conditions that made my extra layers obsolete by mid-morning. While colder than my home in central Georgia, it was quite pleasant.
My primary goal this morning was to find the barn housing trainer, Chad Brown, and to make an introduction to the 2-1 favorite for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, Good Magic. But first, we stood at the rail and watched horses train.
While waiting for the new sun to warm us, we met up with friends - Jennifer and her son, Cassius. I met Jenn in July 2015 when I jumped in the cab that she and her sister were directing toward Belmont Park, just a day before Victor Espinoza and American Pharoah made history by winning the Triple Crown - a feat only eleven horses and jockeys before them had accomplished. We had a wonderful time at the Belmont Stakes and met up again at the 2016 Breeders Cup at Santa Anita.
The backside and training are some of my favorite parts of the entire Thoroughbred racing experience, so I walked Jenn and her son through the barn area and over to a spot where they could see the practice track. At Keeneland, it is something that stands on its own.
Amy and I also met up with a friend of hers who had some goats in their stable. Goats are kept by horsemen as companions to their typically high-strung trainees as they tend to calm the horses. While I appreciate that immensely, I adore the antics.
To watch a baby goat is pure joy. They press their face toward you, bray sweetly, and begin gymnastics if they don't receive the right level of attention. When I heard there were baby goats nearby, I made a beeline.
With Amy's help (peeling me away from the baby goats) we quickly found Chad Brown's barn, and it was busy. The trainer was sending horses to the track to work and giving instructions to their riders, including top jockey Javier Castellano.
As they walked to the track, I stayed back to chat with the groom preparing Good Magic for his turn. I introduced myself and he said his name was Hugo. (great name!) We chatted about the stunning chestnut in his care, with Hugo telling me that Magic is ticklish and does not care for being brushed or cleaned up. At just three years old and still a baby - though a powerful one - I saw him flinch and wiggle while his groom brushed him out. Moderate fidgeting that showed his feelings about the process, being tempered by his training to be still.
While the grooms were preparing the group of horses that would walk to the track with Good Magic, I took the opportunity to introduce myself to his trainer and his owner. "Mr. Brown, I'm Kat Palma." was met with a handshake and a slight shake of his head as he offered, "Chad." Bob Edwards warm smile would tell even the casual observer that he loves it here. As we chatted, he confirmed that with me as we agreed that this is the best part of the racing business - the barns and the preparation. Both men were genial and welcoming, hopeful for the opportunity to travel to Louisville following this race.
Within minutes, the horses were walking the circle outside their shed row, and then we were headed to the paddock for some schooling, Good Magic in the lead. He walked calmly and didn't seem to pay much attention to all the activity around him, as Keeneland staff were readying the grounds for the crowds that would come the next day.
I stayed slightly behind Chad as he gave direction to his team. Magic was focused the entire time, noticing me only once, then going about his business. He stood calmly in the saddling area as the other horses in his group passed by a couple of times, then walked out ahead of them to the walking ring adjacent to the tunnel that leads to the track.
Once they stepped onto the dirt, Good Magic's exercise rider turned left to back track and I briefly lost sight of him as they blended in with a group of horses standing in the chute area at the far end of the track. While we waited for him to gallop out, I had a nice conversation with a member of the Keeneland security staff and met a friend of Amy's who is an outrider. Both happy in their work and their love for this place.
I was mildly surprised that as soon as Good Magic began to come toward us, I picked him up. Each time he passed my position - to the left of the winners' circle, I had no trouble spotting him as he rounded the turn and came down the home stretch. He looks to be in great shape and I'm hopeful that the outcome of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes adds points in his favor to secure Good Magic a trip to the Kentucky Derby.
Leaving the track, Chad's group of trainees headed back to the barn to cool out, get cleaned up and have some breakfast. I parted company with them, thanking Bob and looking forward to the race, I walked to the Welcome Center to pick up my press credentials, and drove reluctantly from Keeneland. (I could stay all day, as the hight changes every few minutes, revealing something else of extreme beauty.)
The remainder of my day was spent with my niece, Samantha, and her boyfriend, Dan. They have a small apartment in a great area in central Lexington and are seriously thinking about getting into the real estate market. Chatting about their jobs and travel carried on for longer than I had expected. By the time I finally arrived at the lovely accommodations I had booked through AIrbnb, picked up a yummy dinner from Good Foods cooperative (a recommendation from my hosts that I give two big thumbs up!) and sat down to edit photos and write, this girl was flat out exhausted.
A much needed good night's sleep and a couple of cups of coffee this morning, and I'm ready to get rolling. I'll start on the backside when I arrive at Keeneland and check in on some of the other contenders for Derby and Oaks points. With light snow in the forecast and a high of 42' by 4pm, I'll be dressed to impress :P.