Springtime at Keeneland at Last

Since the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) will be my main focus for the next few weeks, and spring is in full bloom, I thought I would give you a little insight into my trip to Keeneland this past weekend for the last major Oaks prep race—the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (gr. I).

The day (April 3) started out gusty and cold, with spatters of rain that kept me shivering with a fleece over my sun dress, huddled beneath a tent with some friends in Keeneland’s tailgating section. But the afternoon brought warm sunlight, and at around 2:30 p.m., our editorial intern and guest blogger Kelsey Riley showed up, and we made our way into the track.

As we traveled back and forth from the paddock to the track for the races leading up to the Oaks, it felt good to feel the sun’s glow on my face, and see the horses dappled out, and hear the sights and smells of springtime at Keeneland. After a long, bleak winter, it seemed that all was right in the world again.

Prior to the Ashland, the paddock was bursting at the seams with people—women wearing vibrant shades of pinks, and yellows, and blues, trainers evaluating their horses, exchanging good luck wishes, hoping for the best. Cameras were poised as photographers tried to capture each filly in the best light, for anyone could make it to the winner’s circle.

The minutes leading up to the Ashland were the warmest ones of the day and it was hard to believe that just hours prior, I was shivering and wishing it would all pass by quickly. As Kelsey and I stood observing each filly, suddenly Beautician, a sleek, silvery-toned daughter of Dehere, started to make her own way through the paddock. “Watch out, move quick!” we heard someone exclaim as the crowd parted, and Beautician nonchalantly decided she would rather walk around the back ring where it was less busy.

Two of the other Ashland fillies—Negligee, who was looking to win a rematch against champion She Be Wild, and multiple graded stakes-placed Upperline—ambled along calmly in the back walking ring near the saddling area under a shroud of trees, looking nothing but relaxed.

Above: Negligee exudes an aura of calmness 

She Be Wild, who by far had garnered the most attention from the crowd—and rightfully so considering her stellar record—kept a watchful eye on her onlookers. She seemed alert, but also calm, pacing herself around the ring.

Ironically, the one filly that looked the most keyed up and unsettled while being saddled was none other than the horse that would later best favored She Be Wild in the Ashland--Evening Jewel. I guess she was just ready to fire.

Viewing the race on the rail beside the winner’s circle, Kelsey and I watched in amazement as Evening Jewel put forth a valiant effort to prevail over She Be Wild and a late charging It’s Tea Time.

Although the result was not what I expected, I couldn’t help but be happy for the connections of Evening Jewel. Her owners, Tom and Marilyn Braly were absolutely ecstatic and deserving of the victory. Involved in the industry for 25 years, this was the best filly they had ever owned. After searching for modest success with countless claimers, they finally found a real gem in Evening Jewel, and are now looking forward to the biggest race in the country for 3-year-old fillies—the Oaks. For some people, it only happens once.

I’m glad I was there when it happened to them.

As Kelsey and I were leaving the track, a middle-aged man proudly wearing a fancy pink hat bid us goodbye. I couldn’t leave without at least snapping a photo with him. It was quite the humorous ending to the day. It turned out, the hat belonged to his wife, and he was there with some friends from Nashville celebrating his 40th birthday in style. You never know who you’re going to meet at Keeneland.

Kelsey attempted to drop me back off at the tailgating section to get my car, but the gate was blocked, and we had to circle back around to the Man o’ War entrance. As we drove back into the racetrack, we had to swerve to avoiding hitting a car head on, as we realized we were in the wrong lane (during the spring meet, the left side of the right lane going into Keeneland is reserved for outgoing cars). Kelsey (born in Toronto) exclaimed, “I’m not from this country—it’s not my fault.”

She can only use that excuse for so long…I can’t really talk, though considering how lost I got at Overbrook last fall. All of us must have some shortcomings, I guess.

Well, thanks for listening to my Keeneland/Ashland ramblings and be sure to check back for more adventures soon!

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