See Rachel: Promoting Racing One Fan at a Time

As I write this I am eating my Rachel Alexandra
cookie. It's bay (chocolate) just like her. It has a white icing blaze (sort of
like hers). There is even a sparkle in her eye (courtesy of a white icing dot).

The cookie came in a cellophane bag tied at the top
with a jaunty red bow. And yes, it was quite tasty. The sugary treat was one of my souvenirs from the last of
the three "See Rachel" days at Stonestreet Farms near Lexington this year. I
attended Oct. 20 for a story I'll be writing later.

Rachel Alexandra is doing well these days. The 2009
Horse of the Year's coat is shiny. And just like Beyonce, she has a baby bump (her
souvenir of a visit to two-time Horse of the Year Curlin).

Rachel Alexandra at Stonestreet Farms - Photo by Anne M. Eberhardt

I have been to farms before to see famous horses.
Mostly those trips were to view stallions. The farms want you to buy seasons so
around major sales in Kentucky they'll open their gates, serve you food, and
bring out the studs. It helps, of course, to be a mare owner to get access.

Stonestreet opens its gate to let Rachel's fans see
her. The farm gets no real direct benefit and it takes a lot of time and a lot
of effort from many employees. Very few of these visitors, if any, will buy one
of Stonestreet's sale yearlings. They just want to take Rachel's photo and pat
her neck.

But Stonestreet treats them like they are special.
In the farm's hospitality house, is a major Rachel tribute display. Her Eclipse
Awards and Woodward and Preakness trophies are out on a table. A big-screen TV
plays her races. There are photos of her all over the walls and a bulletin
board displays letters and cards from Rachel's fans.

When you walk in the door, you are asked to sign a
guest book. You also are invited to enjoy refreshments, including coffee,
orange juice, pastries, and fruits.

Then you get to head off in a minivan, in groups of
five or so, to the barn where Rachel lives. When you arrive, she's standing in
the aisle. (When the weather is good, she's meets people outside, but this day was rainy with 30 mph wind gusts and temperatures in the 40s.) You get plenty of time to look at her, pose with her, and yes, you
can get close to her and touch her multiple times. All they ask is that you approach
her one or two at a time. Rachel tolerates it all amazingly well. She will pin
her ears a little, but never does she lift a foot, threatening to kick.

The minivan keeps running until everyone is
transported to Rachel's abode. Then, starting with group one, the visitors are
returned to the hospitality house. They all get the same amount of time with
her and, if they want to, they can visit with Rachel's close companion, Hot
Dixie Chick.

At the end of the visit, each person gets a Rachel cookie
and a very nice glossy color photograph of the mare. The picture comes in an
envelope with a sticker on the front with a Stonestreet logo and the following
message: "We would like to present to you a small token of our appreciation for
sharing this special "See Rachel" day with us. We truly appreciate the kindness
and support you have shown during her racing career!"

The fans get to eat more food and talk about their
experiences. No one is rushed out to their cars. Everyone is thanked for coming
by members of Stonestreet's staff.

This is not something Stonestreet needs or has to
do. It's a private farm, not set up for visitors. Yet owner Barbara Banke and
the staff take the time to do it. Banke says it helps racing by nurturing its
fans, many of whom would never have an opportunity to get close to such an
accomplished racehorse otherwise.

Stonestreet is promoting racing, one fan at a time. It's
something more farms should make an effort to do.


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