Thursday, April 29, 2010

Off To The Races

My personal race season is in full swing & I feel like things are back to how they should be. Racing for me has been a lifelong love…

My birthday is at the end of April and I recall many birthday parties held on the weekend following my actual birth day that paused long enough to watch the Kentucky Derby, which is always held the first Saturday in May.

Some of my favorite memories have been at the track and it probably had to do with the fact that it was a place for me to watch horses. Majestic, powerful and fast! Thoroughbreds have always seemed like the elite athletes of the equine world and they invoke a certain respect from me. These are not typically the horses of my fantasies about galloping through grassy fields or frolicking in the waves at the beach. These are the untouchables…or at least that’s the way I grew up seeing them.

Last summer I had the opportunity to ride my very first Thoroughbred, Cedar County Queen, one of SAFE’s long time residents before she was adopted. She’s a tall horse and I have to admit that I was a bit intimidated. Allison assured me that this was an experience I needed to try at least once. We happened to be hosting the youth group of a local Morgan Horse group that day as they were performing a service day by helping SAFE. So not only did I have to overcome my apprehension about riding Cedar, but I had to do so with an audience, complete with one of their parents who happened to be a dressage trainer. I don’t consider myself a great rider or anything and I’ve managed to ride the wild Arabian (with help, I admit!) but I like to think I can ride a good horse and stay on. The thought of proving myself wrong, especially in front of some really good riders, was probably as intimidating as riding this big mare.

Allison had been Cedar’s primary rider while she was with SAFE so she gave me some pointers about how to make Cedar go. I mounted, got my pep talk from Allison and then gave her a leg to walk off. I apparently found the button to canter because she took off immediately in a slow controlled canter and I thought to myself, “Ok, so we’ll do this first!” She took me half way around the arena and then I got her to slow down. I tried hard not to show how insecure I felt about that first lap but I realized I was going to have to control this ride or trouble was going to be in front of me. The good news was that Cedar was actually very responsive, sensible but forward for the rest of the ride. It turned into an incredible ride and I was beaming. By the time I was done, I felt both triumphant and relieved. I’d conquered my apprehension and had a beautiful experience.

Cedar and I

Photo taken by Lynn Mazer

Later that fall a fellow boarder, Rachelle, allowed me to ride her Off The Track Thoroughbred, Cajun King who raced at Long Acres and had actually been a winner in his day. Knowing that he had a history of running fast kind of gave me a bit of hesitation and he was a very different ride from Cedar. I had the sense that you needed to hold him back, but Cedar has a gentleness about her that instilled a huge sense of calm.

I have a huge respect for Thoroughbreds and those who ride them. I still love the races but now I feel like I have a little hint of their inner minds. I’m no expert, by any means, but now I can say I’ve had to connect with them and I think about that when I see them race.

It was probably a year or more into my relationship with Les that I discovered he, too, had a love of horse racing. One of the few times I have been upset with him was when he asked me if I could make him a reservation for early May in Louisville…and I realized he was heading to the Kentucky Derby WITHOUT me, I could hardly think straight and it was a good three days before I felt like speaking to him again. He returned from that trip informing me that I would not have enjoyed his infield experience but I assured him that a grandstand seat would suit me just fine!

He was eventually forgiven and at some point we got engaged. When talk came to picking a wedding date, he surprised me with the fact that he’d secured Derby Tickets and wondered if I might want to go to that on our honeymoon. ARE YOU KIDDING!?!?!? Of course I would!!!! We planned our wedding to take place the week before the 2003 Derby and after a 3-day cruise in the Bahamas, we had a stop-over in Kentucky on the way back to Seattle for our first Derby together…in grandstand seats! This marks our sixth trip to the Derby and each one brings it’s own adventure.

Racing has truly become a big part of our lives. But even at home, we love racing. Emerald Downs has been a destination for us year after year. Last year I had the amazing good luck to discover that Jan Swagerty, who I met riding at Chrissy’s a few years ago, owned some horses with her husband, Keith, under the barn name of Swag Stables. In 2009 they broke the track record with an amazing 27 wins in a single season and made my year by giving me a standing invite to join them both in the paddock and winners circle any time they race. We’ve had the thrill many times.

No Flies On Doodle

Photo by Corey Reidy

This year we attended Opening Night at Emerald Downs and their proven mare, No Flies On Doodle, took us to the winner’s circle to start the meet off right! The following week we popped in for a quick visit and caught the VERY quick Forener as he went 3 for 3 in his first race of 2010. This is one amazing young horse and has the potential to be their super star. The success of Swag Stables is due to a lot of excellent training and, in my opinion, a good dose of good karma. These are really nice folks who love these horses like family. It might be the family feel or the team mentality that comes from Keith, a former basketball coach, that makes this program work but whatever it is, it’s practically magic... the kind of magic that comes from hard work and persistent planning.

In the Winner's Circle with Forener!

So my race year includes the trip that finds me up late in our hotel room waiting to discover how this one will unfold. Today’s Derby fun included meeting 2009 Derby winning trainer, Chip Woolley. I read last night that he was going to be at the Kentucky Derby Museum giving autographs at 10am but we didn’t get in until 11am, just as they were taking the table down. I was disappointed but noticed that he was still walking around the museum so I stalked him for about 15 minutes until I got a chance to approach him when he wasn’t completely busy talking to someone else. I asked if I could please take a photo with him and he smiled and agreed. As he came up, I reached forward and introduced myself to him “Jeannette Parrett, here from Seattle” to which he replied, “I’m Chip Woolley” and he put an arm around me and smiled while Les took the photo. That was so sweet, he was kind enough to introduce himself to me but I obviously knew who he was. The photo is great but I’ll have to post it when I get back because this laptop doesn’t seem to interact with the SD card very well.

We spent another hour at the track exploring areas we don’t normally get to see during the big event days so I got to experience Churchill Downs in a new way today. Afterward we drove over to a tack store I looked up online but it turned out to be a race supply store. The owner was there and talked to us and showed us his handmade exercise saddles, halters & headstalls. I got some really nice riding gloves and discovered a rack of used leather halters for $15. One of them was big enough for Basil (or small enough if you consider that most of them are made for Thoroughbreds). That was exciting!! It’s in great condition and a little racing souvenir from the track … for my horse!

The weather report says we’re going to have a really nice Oaks day but there’s going to be thunder storms and rain predicted for Derby day. I’ll hope for the best but I asked Corey to send along some of the poncho’s I’ve purchased in the past (and never had to use) as my own little good luck hoping that if I bring it the rain won’t come. My brother-in-law, Mike arrives with a friend tomorrow so he’s got our (hopefully) good luck rain ponchos. Sun dances and blue-sky spells are appreciated too…

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