Saturday, May 7, 2011

Derby Day 2011 (sneak preview)

8:30am - Leave the hotel
9:15am - Arive at Churchill Downs

Rain, sun & eventually smiles.

8:00 pm leave Churchill Downs
10:45 return to hotel


More tomorrow :o)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Back at the Track

Yesterday we went back to the track so that Mike could go through the Kentucky Derby Museum & the track tour. One of the first displays was the tribute to last year's Derby Winner Super Saver. If you've been following my blog for at least a year you may remember my post Super (Horse) Saver the story of how my Pick 3 win with Super Saver as the final horse landed me enough cash in hand to go to Enumclaw and buy Bucky B Lucky out of the kill-pen. That continues to be my #1 most popular post getting hits just about every day. I couldn't help but sport a very big smile when I walked in and saw his Derby Saddle Blanket & Calvin Borel's silks. It was a great visit to memory lane.

Remembering the difference Super Saver made in the life of a fellow Thoroughbred.
 The Kentucky Derby Museum is very interactive. They have a display where you can watch any Derby video replay you want. You can also learn to bet on an interactive animated race so we played each other (I won!) and there's a chance to race each other on the back of a Derby horse. I opted out of this one because it requires you to stand in the stirrups for about two minutes. Les & Mike made interesting jockeys but in the end Mike won.

One part of the track tour takes you by the Eight Belles' tribute in the garden of the museum. I was there the day she broke down and had to be euthanized. Seeing her tribute always brings back the memory of how hard I took that and the gratitude for my racing friends back home in Washington who invited me back to the track after almost a year away, showing me that it's not always like that & to get to see a racing barn who really cares about their horses which led me to get to know many more who I consider to be good owners and positive role models in the racing world. While Eight Belles' injuries didn't indicate poor ownership, it did give racing critics more to raise concerns over. I always say that I dance a fine line between race & rescue.  I am a life-long race fan but I am fully committed to equine rescue. I believe there is room for me in both worlds, but I still mourn the loss of this great filly.

Another bonus of going to the museum was that Secretariat's jockey, Ron Turcotte was there for a signing and Mike was thrilled to meet him and get a signed copy of Secretariat's Derby Winner's Circle photo.

After the museum fun we headed to Lynn Paradise Cafe (a food network recommendation) and had a delightful meal in a quirky and fun atmosphere. I highly recommend this one. The guys both had sandwiches with the macaroni & cheese and thankfully I got a bite...YUM!!! I had the Hot Browns and it, too, was a hit!

As you see above, Lynn's Paradise Cafe has a lot of humor in it's decor. I had to laugh at their horse outside...

Thorough Bread

The guys headed to the Pegasus Parade. I didn't think I was up to walking/standing for a few hours so I dropped them off and ran some errands.

Later on we went to the Tilted Kilt for dinner. It's an Irish Pub/Sports bar and I was THRILLED that along side Basketball, Baseball, Golf & ESPN, there were several Tv's tuned into German Eventing! I got to watch Dressage, Cross Country & Arena Jumping highlights while the guys enjoyed their own interests. I LOVE Kentucky!!!
Today we went back to Churchill Downs for the Oaks. As they say here, "Fillies First" as a nod to the running of the girls on the day before the (mostly) boys on Derby Day. We certainly had a good time and we each got to cash in a few winning tickets! The hat is always a big part of the day and this year's hat is a cream colored version of last year's Derby hat (in black) with lillies from Oaks days past plus two new brown lillies to match my floral dress with brown accents.

My pick for the Oaks, Zazu (from Zenyatta owner, Jerry Moss) didn't quite get there for me. The winner was Plum Pretty, who did stand out to me but that's easy to say *after* the fact. She had a great race! Congrats to her and her connections.

Just before entering the starting gate.
 I did have one winner with a Washington connection. Blind Luck is owned by Mark DeDomenico who's Pegasus Thoroughbred Training & Equine Rehabilitation Center is located in Redmond. We had the great fortune of watching her win the Kentucky Oaks last year & her return to the Churchill Downs winner's circle today in the 26th running of the La Troienne. She did stumble coming out of the gate which is always scary but she came back to win it! Here's a couple of photos from today...

Running second here, but she'll overtake the lead by the end!

The weather cooperated with us most of the day. I even had to apply sunscreen a few times but it was also pretty chilly at some points too. I hope tomorrow is at least as kind to us but there is rain in the forecast for later in the afternoon which is right about Derby time! We'll see.

One last photo of us in the sun...having fun!


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Millionaires For The Morning Workout

Les has been on his own personal "Derby Hunt" for months, if not the better part of the year since we returned from Derby last year. His hunt does not include actually running, crossing a finish line or winning big stakes (originally typed *steaks* which could have been funny/yummy) races, although the winnings could come in handy! No, his hunt is in finding the best deals in accommodations, transportation & entertainment. In fact, he reserved a couple of hotel rooms very early out the gate in hopes that a certain someone would be joining us (I won't name her because it just might make her cry!). Our travel partners have changed and re-arranged a few times but it finally came down to 3 of us: Les, myself & my brother-in-law Mike.

Mike & Les are very serious about this stuff!

The mix may have changed but the aim did not. He really had to work hard for this year as, for some reason, we failed to make the cut for the initial drawing to purchase reserved seating at the Oaks/Derby. Getting tickets was a bit of a worry for us and while he continued to watch tickets on ebay going for quite a bit more than we typically pay for our tickets, it was starting to make more sense to purchase the Taste of Derby tickets for around $500 each and get food with it too vs paying more than that just to buy a set of tickets on ebay.

It came down to early April when he had this great idea...Since I'm walking challenged at the moment he thought he'd call the track directly and see if they had any disabled seating available. I had already told him that his back up plan to buy an infield ticket for $40 was NEVER going to fly with me. We typically get to the track around 10am on Derby day and standing around until 7pm was going to turn me to mental & physical mush. It seemed like a great idea to me...but it turned out they had very little disabled seating and it was all sold by the time he called. He was about to hang up when he thought to ask if there were ANY seats left and the customer service gal said that yes, they did have some tickets available in Section 120.....ONE TWENTY!?!?!?! Yahooooo!!!!! That's still on the racing side of the finish line and you get to watch the horses pass you twice during the race as you get the excitement of the start and the thrill of the finish. face value too! Perfect! He was able to buy 3 sets of Oaks/Derby tickets and *whew* our trip was back on track...with very little time to spare!

While he'd been on the Derby ticket hunt he had already moved our hotel reservation due to a better deal that came along, reserved our rental car at a very reasonable rate and purchased "Dawn at the Downs" tickets on Millionaire's Row up on the 4th floor which is breakfast while you watch the morning workouts!

Dawn at the Downs. 7am comes early, but it's worth it!

We arrived at Churchill Downs this morning at 7:00am and made our way up to the 4th floor just as Dialed In was getting his workout. We only caught it on one of the hundreds of TV screens but as soon as we were shown to our table (#6, right by the front window!!! Thanks for the early thinkin' Les!!) I ignored food and drinks and headed right out to the famous Millionaire's Row rail terrace and watched the ponies!

Les & I on the rail at Millionaire's Row
One of my favorite things to do at home is to go have breakfast at the Quarter Chute Cafe and watch the horses pass by on their way in or back from their morning workouts. We get to see several horses in the hour or two we're there but there were horses everywhere you look on the track at Churchill Downs. It was hard to keep up with the who's who and who's where. Thankfully there was an announcer giving a running commentary so we were able to figure out when the Derby & Oaks horses were on the track (plus the Derby horses all had yellow saddle blankets with a rose on it while the Oaks Fillies had pink ones!)

The breakfast was good and so was the conversation. We shared a table with a couple of teachers from Ohio & a group from the Bay area, they all seemed to be avid race fans so it was fun to talk racing with everyone but I'd take a few bites and head back out to the rail to watch.

I wish I could tell you who all these horses are. I only took photos of Derby & Oaks Horses. Among them I do know we saw Derby horses, ArchArchArch, Animal Kingdom, Twice The Appeal, Santiva, Soldat & Midnight Interlude. Oaks Fillies included Daisy Devine, Joyful Victory, Lavender and Lace & Zazu...and that was just who I can remember off the top of my head.

One that I do remember is Bonnie's pick, Shackleford, for whom I still have the exact same two $5 bills in my wallet that she gave me for her bet on him!

That's Shackleford right in the center
(as Bonnie said "going the wrong way")

It was a wonderful morning and I'll have to add it to "My Picks" of Derby-Must-Dos. We were actually among the last to leave and got herded out by track employees but on the way out we did get one last surprise. A HUGE hand-blown glass replica of Churchill Downs.

This display was at least 4 feet high and 10 feet long.
This is just the center section!

Every horse, every spectator, every detail...hand blown!
 Someone had a grand passion and look where their work ended up...on Millionaire's Row...kinda like me and my passion, on Millionaire's Row for the Morning!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My Derby Picks

A few months ago Liz contacted me on behalf a young lady who (among some other amazing adventures) chose to go to all three Triple Crown races for her Bat mitzvah gift. Yes, she's one VERY lucky kid, indeed: so not knowing how long they're planning to be there I gave them the "Jet's Picks" when it comes to the Kentucky Derby and I'm sharing it with all of know, if you should find yourself here some day! (or if you should be so lucky as to be on the Triple Crown tour)

The first thing to consider is that Derby WEEK is amazing. To the best of my knowledge, there is not another horse racing centric event series like it. Of the three, ( Derby, Preakness, Belmont,) Derby is the only one that creates THAT much of an event. The week preceding Derby Day is FULL of fun. It is also full of changes to things that are not available in any other time of year because everything in the entire Louisville area is in Derby Mode.

While it's possible to fly in see the derby and escape immediately, I can't for the life of me figure out why anyone would...especially if they LOVE horses!!!

One of the Must-See's is the Kentucky Derby Museum & lunch at the Derby Cafe. I think we were able to do both on a Wednesday before Derby but it's closed for Oaks Day on Friday and Derby Day on Saturday. Thursday is typically a private luncheon so the cafe is closed but it's a good idea to check their calendar or contact them first to see what they have planned. (Hot Browns are a tradition & very yummy there!)

That's probably a good day to just go to the track and explore, watch a few races while the crowd is minimal. Oaks & Derby Day are a ZOO! You can typically get to your seats and some key other places but it's not a day to get the feel of Churchill Downs. I'd even suggest that Mom/Dad join the Twin Spires Club and start getting updates on events.

Then there's the Derby Festival. LOTS of events and a HUGE Waterfront party in Downtown Louisville on Friday night after the Oaks. There are usually large act music groups who play..for free! Lots of Derby excitement and family oriented as it's intended for the locals. You buy a Pegasus Pen at any Kroeger Food Store and it gets you into any of the Festival events. I think they're $4 and they are at every check out line.

Speaking of Kroeger: at the Middletown Kroger Food store on Shelbyville Rd (**eta** I just learned that they moved it this year to the Hubbards Lane Kroger...just in case you were headed out to see it) they make the Derby Rose Garland on Friday night before the derby. I know it sounds silly but it's a LOT of fun to go there and watch them sew the roses on. It's a huge deal! They have live music & the whole store has Derby Traditional food for sampling plus a life size model horse with a mock Rose Garland that you can take your photo with. The line to see the garland being made is a little long but they come by with free rose petals, pins and sometimes snacks! I take folks there and have never waited more than 45 minutes to see it. You've never had so much fun in a grocery store! I believe they also do it on Thursday for the Lilly Garland for the Oaks race on Friday.

I also love TACK shopping in Kentucky. There are several great ones around Louisville and Lexington as well as a race tack shop right near the track: Luckett's makes custom racing/exersize saddles and leather halters. I bought really nice used ones from a box for $15 each when I was there last year. But a new one is a really cool way to remember the Derby at home every day in use with your own horse (I have one other suggestion about that too...later). Bob Mickler's, The Hitching Post & Kentucky Horse Supply are also great. My husband let me have a whole day of tack shopping for my birthday last year in Louisville and I wished I'd packed an extra bag! It was so fun, I felt like a horse crazy 13 year old, myself!

Most of the Horses are out in Lexington. There are few in-person horse experiences in Louisville, especially during Derby but Lexington is about an hour away and my personal favorite place in Kentucky! The majority of the breeding farms are out there and you can go on organized tours through Thoroughbred Heritage Farm Tours: or you can contact local farms on your own to try to arrange tours.

I also highly recommend the The Thoroughbred Center in Paris, KY (minutes from Lexington). I'd take the early morning tour so you can see the workouts. They take out out to the practice track and through the barns. On our tour we met a trainer and got to hear how he prepares horses for racing & got to pick his brain a bit. It was awesome! They have something like 1,100 horses there and train year round. It turns out there are 5 tracks in Kentucky and this place is central to all of them. They run horses year round, a month at a time at each track, plus an extra month at Churchill & Keeneland (the MOST beautiful track I've seen!). Book your reservation well ahead of the trip on that one.

Another excellent Lexington adventure is the Kentucky Horse Park. It's like Disneyland for Horse people!! I have not been there since the World Equestrian Games but I have been there twice before the games and then spent all two weeks of the games there last Sept/Oct. The facilities they put in for the games are magnificent. You can ride trail horses (slow, but a run way to see the place) for a tour but you can also drive out through the Rolex 3 day Cross Country course (which runs the weekend before Derby, much of it is still set up). Inside the park there is a museum of the horse, several breed demonstrations and a Parade of Champions where you can meet the horse that won the Derby on my honeymoon, Funnycide...among others!

Also located on the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park is the Makers' Mark Secretariat Center where they take off-the-track Thoroughbreds and retrain them for post-racing careers in pleasure, jumping & dressage, getting them ready to be adopted. It's a really great way to give a race horse a chance at a great life beyond the track. I understand they do allow visitors but not on Sundays and it's a good idea to contact them well ahead of your trip too.

If you are in Lexington on Sunday after the Derby, you can also attend the annual Homecoming Party at Old Friends, a racehorse retirement facility. We've gotten some of our BEST Derby mementos there at their fundraising silent auction. Two years ago I came home with a 5' original painting and last year my husband got an autographed Hall of Fame induction "jersey" for Bob Baffert! They have this party and usually have food & some really cool auction items. They typically have several halters worn by actual TB Champions. Two years ago they had Big Brown's halter, donated by his owners. There are sometimes art, photography and other stuff there, I've even seen the personal scrapbooks of certain horses auctioned there. It's a great evening for a great cause: to give a retirement home to Thoroughbreds.

I would suggest to spend Sunday/Monday in Lexington to get the full horse experience.

While in Lexington there is also Quillin's Tack Shop...where they make the special PINK Leather Halter for the Kentucky Oaks Fillies (and a certain special Arabian Mare in Washington!!!!) They are another race centered tack shop but it's amazing to see what they make there and it's not ALL about racing!

Another fun day in the "area" is Shelbyville (bout half way between Louisville & Lexington). It's the Saddlebred horse Capital of the world & the local visitors bureau will take you on a farm tour for free (if you decide to donate, it goes to a therapeutic riding center) and you get to see one of THE most lovely working farms I've ever been to! This is also the home of Claudia Sanders Dinner House (that would be Mrs. Sanders of the KFC fame) she opened a dinner house with her private recipes after they sold their Kentucky Fried Chicken business. The place is fun & the food is served family style. I would never actually go to KFC in Kentucky when I have THIS option!!!

I will also add that my husband has also attended the Belmont and just did not have the same experience has we've continued to enjoy in Kentucky going to the Derby. At first we thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime but we just couldn't stay away...and it's almost yearly now! I tell him we're practically residents!!!

OK....that's about all my brain can spew out at one time...but I LOVE Kentucky and hope that any of you who make the trip has a, likewise, amazing experience.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My Old Kentucky Home

Yes....I'm still alive...

ya know, I actually did write a little but thankfully in my pain managed haze I had the good sense not to hit the publish button. It seemed a little like the right thing to do to chronicle my progress but as I went back to read it I found it just a tad too graphic and not really things I want to share. It may have proved humorous for some who know me but I'm thinking (now) that my drug induced rants on knee replacement recovery are just a little too much for this forum. I will, however, write about the process because I've learned that I am not the lone equestrian who's undergone joint replacement and have chosen to continue to ride.

Just a quick update to say that this has been very difficult and it's only been the last week that I've begun to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I've ridden twice now and am taking this recovery time to revisit my riding basics. But that's all going to have to wait just a little while because I happen to be smack dab in the middle of another exciting equine adventure...

I'm sitting in a hotel room in Louisville, Kentucky for another week of horses and fun for Derby 137. My husband, Les & my brother-in-law, Mike and I are here and already having fun in the place I'm calling my Old Kentucky Home-away-from-home.

We had great luck with out standby flights and even got here 3 hours earlier than expected (as well as 3 hours earlier than our luggage) so we rented our car and headed for one of our local favorite burger joints, the Steak n' Shake but got side tracked by the discovery of another location of BuckHead's, the restaurant I discovered Cheese Boulders last year across the river from downtown Louisville over on the Indiana side and have craved all year since. We thought we'd set aside some time to head over there but this other location pretty much jumped out in our path over and all the burger & shake thoughts were quickly cleared as we steered into the parking lot. Within an hour of landing I had cheese boulders placed in front of me and I suddenly felt so welcomed back. I think they love me here, I really do!

I don't have a ton of time to write tonite because I really should try to get some sleep as my adventure leads me to Churchill Downs tomorrow morning for viewing AM workouts from Millionaires Row. How exciting!?!?!

It feels good to have the keys beneath my fingers & I look forward to sharing this week with *all y'all* & I promise a little gift in the morning before we leave so I hope you'll come back and visit!

I'll close this with a fun hat I saw today: "WORK?? It's Derby Week!"