The news was delivered on Wednesday afternoon. Triple Crown Champion, Justify, who was being evaluated for swelling in the ankle, was retired. Story after story has been published about the thrilling, but fleeting, four month campaign that will enshrine this chestnut colt in the hearts and minds of race fans. I've read them with interest, and melancholy. While I understand the financial and other issues at stake, Thoroughbred racing needs its heroes, and I wish this one would have kept racing....even a little bit longer.
Summer meets are in full swing at Del Mar and Saratoga, and some wonderfully talented horses are set to face off this evening at Monmouth Park's Haskell Invitational. I look forward to watching one of my favorites, Good Magic, in the Haskell, and I will travel back to my former home base of San Diego for the Pacifica Classic on August 18. But I do have plenty to inspire me closer to home.
In Mid-June - just five weeks ago - I loaded my four-month-old kittens, fifteen-year-old cat and six-year-old German Shepherd into my SUV and drove out of Georgia and into heaven. (Yes, Tennessee was in the middle.) Anyone who knows me has heard me speak of living in Lexington someday, and someday turned out to be June 21. With the help of my family and friends, I've been getting settled and completing some of the many projects that present themselves when moving into a new home. It has been busy, challenging and wonderful.
With the brunt of my homework behind me, on Friday morning I made my first trip as a "local" to Keeneland Race Course, less than 15 minutes from my new home. While the air was not cool, it was far from the sultry mornings we have had recently in the Bluegrass. Immediately at peace, the quiet serenity of the off-season pace at my favorite track settled on me like a shimmering mist as I walked among the barns and toward the track.
A handful of horses were training at an easy pace as the light crept up. I encountered no more than six people in the observation areas at the rail, including a cheerful security guard, a couple of trainers engaged in thoughtful conversation, and two young ladies who were taking selfies - clearly excited to be at Keeneland.
Outriders and exercise riders alike nodded and smiled to me as the backtracked along the rail, and I noted that a good number of ladies were working horses, a theme that I will dig into as the fall meet approaches.
Rain spat at me, briefly growing strong enough to drive me toward cover. A mile or two to the West, heavy rain was visible, but there was a distinct line between clear skies and clouds, and it was pushing off to the South and West. Walking toward the barns, even just a couple hundred feet, was all it took to keep me dry.
A lone horse and rider making their way back to the barn, a beautiful and camera-friendly goat, and many empty stalls sat quietly, waiting to be discovered. A far cry from the crush of people and horses that will be on the grounds in just six weeks, when the September yearling sale swings into gear, but small pockets of activity were not hard to find.
A trio of riders coming in from training, bath time for a pretty chestnut filly, and an impressive-looking, two year old filly, grazing with her handler just outside her barn. The work goes on, at this track and others - tracks big and small, famous and obscure. Every day, they train and bathe and feed, they see veterinarians and farriers and equine dentists. They clean stalls, drag tarps and sweep shed rows. And every year there is a new crop of two-year-olds to pique our interest, and there is the Triple Crown trail that begins the first Saturday in May with the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Every year.
Negatives exist in every industry, and there is plenty written and said about what is wrong with Thoroughbred racing. While I have my personal opinions about some of it, if you've come here for any of that, you'll be wasting your time. I believe that what we focus on expands, and there is so much dedication, care and hard work that I see whenever I step onto the backside of any race track, that I choose to place my focus there.
I was not at Del Mar this weekend to capture images of Justify's well-earned victory lap, and I'm not at Monmouth Park to cheer for Good Magic this afternoon, but I went to Keeneland. The Roman philosopher, Seneca, said, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."
They are preparing, here and at tracks around the country. As the opportunities present themselves, here's to an abundance of racing luck in all of their futures.