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Back from Kentucky

Posted by Avram Freedberg

Rhoda and I were both stressed on Friday night in anticipation of our big trip the next day. We weren’t even sitting together on some legs. We had to get up around 4AM. Flight connections were tight. It was costly. Etc. Etc. However, the flights turned out fine. And it wasn’t bad to leave cloudy, rainy and chilly weather for the warmth of Charlotte, NC (brief as our stay at the airport was) and sunny Lexington, KY. We were afraid it was going to be chilly there but it was perfect!

We were greeted at the airport by Kevin, a very pleasant African-American, who was piloting a van from Keeneland Racecourse. He drove us the few minutes to the track, took us to the Racing Commission office, so I could get my photo taken for my Kentucky State’s Owner’s License and then accompanied us to Barn 22 where Ahvee’s Destiny (and Canadian Ballet) were being housed.

Christian, Ahvee’s groom while Jeobani is away in his Central American homeland, took Ahvee out of her stall. She was a little nippy but she let me stroke in back of her ears. She looked great! We took some photos of all of us with her, stroked her a little more and then Kevin took us to the Clubhouse Will Call window to get our tickets.

Keeneland is a beautiful facility, first built by John Oliver Keene as his family home and sold in 1935 to make the race track in 1936. It’s constructed of magnificent stone, much of it limestone, quarried from the property. So, it’s pretty majestic. And, it was crowded, like Saratoga can be. The paddock area has a stall area and a walking circle area. All very pretty with balconies overlooking as well the throngs of race goers crowding the ground level.

After buying a Keeneland hat and some jockey cards (like Baseball player cards), we went up an elevator to the Lafayette Room, a small, elegant dining area, where the hostess, Missy, welcomed us and set us up with everything we would need; from box seats, if we wanted to go outside for the race, to programs and Paddock passes. A little while later a “host,” named David, greeted us and told us he would return to take us to the paddock before our race and to the box seats. All in all, it was quite a greeting. At the New York Racing Association tracks, we’ve never been treated quite like this.

The course itself is beautifully landscaped with the latest electronic visual aids. However, it is laid out differently than any other race track we’ve been to. At most tracks, the “Clubhouse” entrance is at the finish line end of the homestretch. The Winner’s Circle is proximate to the finish line; not so at Keeneland, where both areas are near the head of the stretch. Rhoda worried that getting from the box seats to the Winner’s Circle was a long haul. I said it’s a problem I hope we’ll be happy to have. Also, the top of the stretch is not parallel to the stands, so some sight lines are difficult. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful track and a beautiful day.

Joe DiGeso, one of the Obviously New York Stable partners who own Canadian Ballet, was also attending, so we sat together and had a bite before his guests arrived. We were all very excited and anxious. Let’s put it this way, when I find it difficult to eat, you know I’m anxious!

When Dave took us down to the Paddock, my adrenaline was on “high.” Ahvee looked beautiful in the paddock. We met the Jockey, Rajiv Maragh, who’d never ridden Ahvee’s Destiny before. So, I was surprised when he asked me why I wasn’t wearing my silks. I told him I’d be wearing them, if he got us to the Winner’s Circle!

Finally, we lead the horses through the tunnel to the race track and I looked at the odds board. Ahvee’s Destiny was 7-1. Wow! I didn’t think we’d be seeing odds this high on her, so I was happy to place my big bets and proceed to the box. The horses were lining up. Since we were in post #1, we went in to the gate first. Rajiv had been told by Linda to get her out of the gate fast. The bell rang… but Rajiv did not get her out fast. She was 6th out of 7 and never improved her position. Boy, were we disappointed… no winning tickets to cash, no Winner’s Circle photos and we had a plane to catch, since the schedules called for us to run back to the airport, so we could make it back home that night. I was in a bit of shock. I felt the tears well up… but I had to focus on getting back to the airport.

We went to the front of the Clubhouse, where Kevin was waiting to take us back to Lexington’s Bluegrass Airport. Linda called to tell me that she was unhappy That Rajiv didn’t get her out of the gate fast. She doesn’t like being in the back. Linda called her a timid horse. I know she doesn’t like dirt kicked up in her face from the horses running in front of her. The race was won in Stakes record time by West Ocean, trained by Todd Pletcher who may have 6 horses in the Kentucky Derby in two weeks.

Even though the flight from Lexington to Charlotte was delayed, they made up the time and our flights home were on time. It was lovely day on one level, obviously disappointing on another. For those who are wondering, our friendly rival, Canadian Ballet finished 4th.

Ahvee’s next race will probably be down in Baltimore next month before the Preakness in the Very One Stakes. Last year that was the exciting race that saw the first four finishers separated by a nose, a head and a nose. We finished third. Ballet finished 2nd. Smart & Fancy was the winner.

Ahvee’s Destiny will be coming to Belmont. We look forward to visiting her and feeding her some carrots. We still love her very much!


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