I missed out on a live sex act because of Mapquest.
Scheduled to see a breeding at Vinery on March 18th, I confidently tell Melissa Anthony, Vinery’s office manager, that I don’t need directions because I can get them from Mapquest.
Less than twenty-four hours later, I pull off to the side of the road and make the first of several phone calls to Vinery, whose helpful staff (Victoria Rengifo and Declan Doyle) provide virtually turn by turn directions to Michael of Gathering the Wind and me. Victoria and Declan are way better than a computer.
When we finally arrive, we are regretfully told that the stallions couldn’t wait (we’ve all heard THAT one before, haven’t we?), and the breeding is over. But we are late enough that the stallions have had enough time to shower and get cleaned up before they are presented to us.
Perhaps not surprisingly for a breeding operation with farms in both Lexington and Florida, Vinery feels like a little bit of Kentucky dropped into Florida horse country. The architecture and the landscaping recall the Bluegrass, as do many of the accents we hear, and at least one conversation (remember, this was a couple of weeks ago) in which Billy Gillispie’s future is fervently discussed. Among the reasons given by those supporting his ouster: his repeatedly rude treatment of racing reporter Jeannine Edwards when she was covering Kentucky games this winter.
Vinery Florida keeps a small stable of stallions; D’Wildcat, Congrats, Peace Rules, Alke, and Pomeroy call Ocala (or more accurately, Summerfield) home, but the stallions are in fact only a part of the farm’s operation. With 100 stalls for horses in training and two tracks (a 7/8 dirt track and a six furlong turf course), Vinery Florida can feel more like the backstretch of a race track than a breeding farm.
Our hospitable, friendly, and knowledgeable host and guide, farm manager David McClure, takes us first to meet the stallions; while each was impressive, my attention is on Peace Rules (whose second in the 2003 Travers, to Ten Most Wanted, is a race I remember well), and Saratoga horse for the course Pomeroy.
Observing Peace Rules’ comfortably rotund belly, it is difficult to imagine his early days at the farm when, McClure told us, “He was so thin and wouldn’t eat.” He apparently didn’t take easily to life on the farm, but has since adapted well, taking peppermints with alacrity, posing for photos, and nuzzling visitors. I guess he’s discovered that life as a well-fed stud isn’t so bad after all.
Pomeroy (below) won the King’s Bishop, the Vanderbilt, and the Forego; he was second in the Saratoga Special and the Amsterdam. At Saratoga, he beat, among others, Saratoga County (the geographical nerve of him!) and Commentator. He raced until he was five, and his first foals are yearlings this year.
As David leads us away from the stallion barn and down to the training area, we could be on any morning backstretch. The sun shines brilliantly; horses school and jog and walk; trainers and owners wander and watch, coffee in hand. David and farm trainer Ian Brennan point out two-year-olds by some of the stallions we’ve just seen, and we learn that this was where Charitable Man rehabbed following his knee injury last fall. Kiaran McLaughlin’s colt is scheduled to make his three-year-old début next week in the Blue Grass at Keeneland.
Our hosts are remarkably gracious; having already spent an hour with us, David McClure apologizes when business calls him away, but he tells us to stay as long as we want, and suggests that we remain until at least 10 a.m., when the horses are scheduled to get in the pool.
Turns out that Vinery Florida was the first farm in the United States to install an aquatic horse exercise machine, and is still one of only two in this country. Designed and sold by IronGate Australia, the pool has room for six horses, and Vinery horses daily get in for a little exercise. The trainer running the pool explains that it’s not for swimming: “The water comes up only to their chests, not enough for them to be able to float. They’ve got to keep their feet on the ground.” In general, the horses walk for five minutes, jog for seven, and walk for another five. Would that my workouts were so short, effective, and pleasurable.
We stop at the office to say good-bye and thank you to the folks who have made our visit so pleasant, especially office administrator Melissa Anthony, who arranged it all for us; in conversation with stallion administrator Declan Doyle, I notice a Friesan Fire hat on his bookshelf. “Do you have a connection to him?” I ask, feeling foolish, thinking I should know this. “We own part of him,” Ian replies. Yes, I am foolish; yes, I should have known? The colt races in the name and colors of Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm, but he’s a Vinery horse, too, and we know whom they’ll be rooting for in a month’s time at Churchill.
We make our way back to I-75, far more directly this time, reflecting on a perfectly satisfying, perfect morning…even without the sex.