Breaking a Churchill maiden

Monday morning, April 19th:  It’s been quiet for a little while, but at about 8:25, the stirrings begin. The clockers resume their places: binoculars are raised, stopwatches poised. After a morning of commonplace workouts—oh, except for that bullet that Rachel Alexandra fired at 6:30—the Churchill Downs track is about to become something of a private playground.

Under a new policy, after the mid-morning maintenance break, the track at Churchill is for the exclusive use of Derby and Oaks contenders. Though this year horses can work out under the lights before the sun comes up, they would then have to deal with racing riffraff, with any old horse that might dare to venture onto the track with them.

At 8:30, though, it’s all theirs. Actresses get to shop in exclusive boutiques that are closed to the public to ensure their privacy, athletes take over clubs for their personal use, and these equine rock stars get one of the most famous pieces of dirt in the world all to themselves for a precious fifteen minutes.

The only price to pay for this privacy is a yellow saddle towel bearing their name; no more “Who’s that?” “Which Pletcher just started to go?” “Is that [fill in the blank]?” Unless, of course, you’ve eschewed the trackside rail for a perch up higher, which offers a magnificent vista of the whole track, but not much in the way of telescopic vision on saddle cloths.

But we do the best we can, even from high up, and fortunately, even non-professional cameras sometimes come through, albeit sometimes blurrily. The usually-reliable Samsung digital captures only hazy, impressionistic horse as Rachel Alexandra crosses the wire in the dark and in the distance (or maybe it was because she was going so fast?); it fares better once the sun is up.

Awesome Act...

...and the ever popular Work Mate

Prepping for the Derby Trial...and the Derby? Eightyfiveinafifty

Ice Box...

...and more Ice Box

Sassy Image

Seeking the Title

I figured that someday I’d get to Churchill Downs; maybe for the Derby, or, more likely, for a summer afternoon of racing when I would have the place largely to myself. I did not figure that the introduction would take place in the dark at 6 am on a Monday; that my first view of the Churchill track would be from six stories up; that the reigning Horse of the Year would be working out; that it would be two weeks before the Derby.  I am not complaining. 

3 thoughts on “Breaking a Churchill maiden

  1. No complaining! It Churchill Downs!!

    I will be there this coming Monday at 6 AM, in the dark and half asleep with the hope of seeing the magnificent Rachel.

  2. The 6th floor vantage point you were shooting from had more to do with your images than the gear you were using. If you had DSLRs and long lenses your pictures would be sharper, but they would still be from above and loooking down on your subject. The photo from this group that works for me is the one of the Winner’s Circle. The space was empty the morning you viewed it, but come the 1st Saturday in May it will be lit by the late afternoon Spring sun of the Commonwealth and it will be filled with all sorts of personalities, as well as ghosts from Kentucky Derbys that have long since passed. Included in the mix will one special 3 YO, the name of which we can only guess at now. But if you look at that photo long enough you can start to imagine the timeless scene that takes place every year in that same light and surrondings you captured.

    I happen to think Awesome Act is going to be The One with the blanket of roses thrown across his back in a couple of weeks and glad you have a shot of him on the CD oval. But I love the shot you got of 85ina50 as he is lookin’ good to go in the Trial this Saturday!

    It’s fun to be a fan of the 3 YOs in the Spring! Can’t wait ’till they start to sing that song of my old Kentucky home….

    • Agreed, Linda, and have a terrific trip.

      BrooklynSaint: thanks for the photo info. Wish that I were going to be there when it looks as you describe it.

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