In a year in which the survival of our sport is being challenged and we fight to continue to engage in our passion—horses—it can be harder to give thanks and show gratitude for the treasures that enrich us and this business of Thoroughbreds.
Although a long, fertile past doesn’t ensure an equally bright future, our history does give us thousands of reasons to love our involvement with racehorses. No sport takes its history more passionately than do we; nobody honors its warriors and holds them in the same esteem as do the fans and chroniclers of these special animals.
And no institution honors the history of horse racing quite like the Keeneland Library. The library, located on the Keeneland Race Course grounds, is quietly celebrating its 80th birthday this year. The physical equal of any first-class library at any top university in the world, the Keeneland Library is at once modern and classic, welcoming and comforting to the most serious researcher or casual browser.
There is not a serious book on any aspect of the sport not housed among its 30,000 volumes. One million photographic images are available for viewing; race charts dating back to the 1860s; entire collections of periodicals such as Daily Racing Form and BloodHorse and Thoroughbred Record.
A key element to bringing all this history to light, and the reason the Keeneland Library was deservedly recognized with a Special Eclipse Award in 2002, however, is the expert and enthusiastic staff now headed by Becky Ryder and Roda Ferraro. Their passion puts the images and words into the mind’s eye of those seeking knowledge. They want to share this great gift that brings all of us together in the love of the horse.
Last week in these pages we presented a remembrance of the great trainer Charlie Whittingham. We have found such historic pieces to be popular with our readers, and we regularly go back into our files to pull clippings of the great horsemen and horses that have written the history we rewrite for you. When BloodHorse moved offices earlier this year, the task was completed seamlessly and quickly, but there was one glitch. Our file drawer from “White” through the end of the alphabet was missing, not a good thing when you’re trying to research Whittingham.
We mentioned this obstacle to Ferraro. Without being asked, within a week she let us know she had pulled a complete file of newspaper and magazine clippings on Charlie Whittingham and had also earmarked a half-dozen bound volumes of magazines containing articles about him. That BloodHorse cover story could not have been done anywhere near as well if not for her assistance. Similar acts occur multiple times daily. Any expression of thanks is greeted simply with, “That’s what we’re here for.”
The library’s Lecture Series invites authors and artists to share their insights and works with the public. Like the library itself, the Lecture Series is free and presents opportunities for fans to mingle with industry pros. The library staff is likely to have assisted with each book or piece of art being discussed. Having personally suffered through numerous bookstore and book fair signing events where we desperately and silently beg for a customer to come our way, we know there is no better place to sell a book than at the Lecture Series, which boasts a regular roster of patrons who faithfully attend the events and support the artists.
In conjunction with its 80th anniversary, the Keeneland Library is presenting curated photo exhibits and special events, such as the recent evening with 98-year-old Keeneland legend James E. “Ted” Bassett III. During his story-telling, Bassett made a point to celebrate the facility and brought Ryder and Ferraro up to the podium to take a figurative bow for their stewardship of this industry gem.
Perhaps we can take a moment of solace in our past this holiday season while girding for the battles ahead. There is a beautiful limestone home to history in our midst that makes the task a pleasure.