Keeneland quick picks

Back in Brooklyn after two and a half terrific days in Lexington; this was my fourth trip to Lexington and third to Keeneland for live racing, so I hope that no one read my Friday post as anything other than gentle mockery of a superb race track. Keeneland is a different racing world even from Saratoga (and certainly from Aqueduct, where I’ve spent the last five months), with which it shares so many wonderful qualities, and while it might take itself a little too seriously at times, no racing fan should miss it. And hey—if you don’t want to get dressed up, there are plenty of places at Keeneland that will welcome you (just don’t try the clubhouse).

It will perhaps be comforting to know that even the best dressed racing fans still act like, um, sports fans sometimes. On Blue Grass Saturday, snappily attired college students and twenty-somethings descended on Keeneland, and as one might expect, by mid-afternoon, the effects of pre-race tailgating and race-day imbibing began to take their toll. Even the best-bred couldn’t help but occasionally spill a beer onto an unsuspecting passerby; that spill was often accompanied by an apologetic “Excuse me, ma’am,” which I don’t hear often at either Saratoga or Aqueduct. At Keeneland, even the beer fouls are genteel.

A friend and I spent much of Saturday morning in one of Neil Howard’s barns; one of his assistants is a childhood friend of mine, and as we walked the shedrow, talking about the horses, Joe recalled incidents from Saratoga in the 80’s, including the time that he, my brother, and their hockey-playing friends rescued our dog when he fell through a thin spot on the ice. His name was Zephyr.

Hours later, sitting at Keeneland, a few minutes to post, my friend looked through the program and asked, “Are you betting the one?” Not having perused the program, I took a look: Zephyr Ice. “You’re betting her, right?” I hesitated—three minutes to post, 7 – 1. Probably not. “You’re not going to bet her?” I looked around—steps away was one of those mobile bet-takers, computer in hand. A few minutes later, I had a $20 winner, the only ticket I cashed over the weekend. So much for handicapping.

And despite my pleas for advice on the subject, no one has stepped forward to let me know how to tip these mobile bet-takers. So in addition to violating dress code and parking rules, I probably screwed that up, too.

In what I can only hope will be a new Backstretch tradition, I ate my second consecutive Good Friday breakfast in the Keeneland track kitchen, looking longingly at those around me ingesting bacon and sausage while I observed the meatless restrictions of Lent, making do with (only!) eggs, grits, bacon, (Freudian!) apples, and biscuits (sorry, John, no gravy—ick!). Fortunately, no such sacrifice exists on Saturday, and I indulged fully, making up for what I missed the day before. (Does that negate the idea of sacrifice?)

When scheduling its racing dates, Keeneland generally does not take into account the academic schedules of far-away teachers; this school year has proved marvelously fortuitous, as religious and civic holidays have provided two long weekends during the fall and spring racing meets. Driving home Sunday afternoon, I reflected that I am unlikely to be so lucky next year, and, crazy as this five-day road trip was, I’m glad that I got a chance to go: to see Forever Together win in her 2009 début; to see the wonderful Ventura, even if she got beat; to see a major Derby prep and to watch unfold the story of General Quarters and his one-horse owner/trainer.

Reflecting on a magnificent mid-April break, I have plenty of glowing memories of this most recent trip to Lexington, and only one regret: I didn’t make it to the Hamburg Liquor Barn.

3 thoughts on “Keeneland quick picks

  1. Ah, the Keeneland track kitchen. Rub it in some more, will ya?Where else in sports can you go and sit next to your favorite athletes…all with no press pass, no special ticket or no gaudy tip for the guy working the door?Ah Keeneland in general…open to the public! Walk up and down the shedrows and say hi to Rags To Riches, Curlin and the like. Pass the security guards, and instead of getting frisked and berated for not showing proper I.D. all you hear is ‘How are you? Sure is a nice morning.’NYRA, are you listening?

  2. I can’t believe I forgot to arrange that photo of you at the Hamburg Liquor Barn!You know, if you taught on the Island, you could’ve spent this whole week at Keeneland.

  3. True enough, Ian…but it also would mean that I didn’t have two weeks off in March to spend in Florida…and that I’d have to live on Long Island!

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