Southern Hospitality Meets Breeders’ Cup - by Eric Mitchell

Trackside mornings in the week before the Breeders’ Cup World Championships are frantic times. The coordination of getting horses ready for their works, getting back and forth between the grandstand and the barn area to watch the works, and keeping close tabs on how the horses are settling in is all-consuming regardless of where the races are held.

Having the championships at Keeneland, however, provides an opportunity rarely seen at other venues even during these busy hours—a chance to learn something about the community that is supporting the event.

At Keeneland, track employees and volunteers on the apron readily strike up easy conversations about the races, their favorite horses, or the best places in town to eat.

But one of the best sources of insight and stories into the colorful characters who call Lexington home can be found on Hagyard Equine Medical Institute’s valuable shuttle service between the grandstand and stabling area along Rice Road, tucked behind the training track. Several of the drivers are Lexington natives with deep roots in the horse community.

Kitty White, the daughter of the late Henry White, is one of the drivers on Hagyard’s shuttle team. Henry White, who died in 2013, was a prominent and well-respected horseman who moved to Lexington from Hopkinsville, Ky., when he was only 11 months old. As a two-term president of the Thoroughbred Breeders of Kentucky, director emeritus of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, and founding member of the Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP), he was a tireless promoter of the Central Kentucky Thoroughbred farm community.

“My dad would be so excited about this opportunity to show people Lexington and the area, and he would want to be right in the middle of it,” said White, looking from a hilltop road next to the training track toward Keeneland’s grandstand, glowing warmly on a gray early morning. “But it wouldn’t be about his farm or what he’d done; he was always about what was good for the community as a whole.”

Henry White embraced the concept behind the Breeders’ Cup—recognizing the efforts and accomplishments of the people working every day to produce quality Thoroughbreds. White had his hands on several outstanding runners including Singletary, winner of the 2004 NetJets Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) and grade I winners Cryptoclearance and Temperate Sil, who provided White with one of his proudest moments April 4, 1987. On that day he watched Cryptoclearance win the Florida Derby (gr. I) and Temperate Sil win the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). White also raised a good horse named Sea Hero for Paul Mellon.

“When Sea Hero was going into the (Kentucky) Derby (gr. I), (trainer) Mac Miller and Mr. Mellon had invited my dad to sit with them and he said he didn’t want to go,” recalled Kitty White. “He had been to the Derby and didn’t want to deal with the crowds. I told him he was going to regret it when Sea Hero won and he wasn’t there to see it, but he never did. It was important enough to him to have a horse he raised and planned the mating for win the Derby. Because that is what he was all about as a breeder, just raising a good horse.”

Kentucky is proud of its place as the hub of the country’s Thoroughbred community, and the Lexington area is particularly proud of its role as the leading producer of quality racehorses. Now with the Breeders’ Cup here, the community is eager to invite you in and show you around. Because they know once you’ve sampled the hospitality, you’ll be back.

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