Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Day
Today is my last day at Keeneland for this fall. While I’m really sad to be leaving tomorrow, I feel so lucky that I’ve been able to stay so long to enjoy the amazing Fall Stars meet thus far.
Keeneland is one of those bucket-list destination tracks for most racing fans, and I thought that it would be a good time to write a guide for first time visitors to the track. With photos, of course! After all, the Fall Stars meet continues until Oct. 27, and I hope that some of you can make a journey out here before then.
When you arrive Keeneland, there are a few places you can go to watch the races straight off the bat. The first place you can visit is the apron, which is track lingo for the area right in front of the homestretch of the racetrack. This is a great place to catch the action, because you’re right there as the horses battle it out to the finish line.
There’s another bonus to hanging out on the apron: between races, the pony riders (the guys and gals who escort the racehorses from the entrance of the track to the starting gate before the race) often stop and let fans young and old get to know their trusty mounts.
If you’re feeling like a high roller, you can also watch from the Clubhouse. This area is restricted to those folks with the appropriate tickets, and fans can watch from a beautifully manicured lawn as the horses come down the stretch. If you hang out here you’re more than likely to meet some of the owners of the horses competing that day, so it’s totally worth the price of admission!
Another option (if you have a little extra jingle in your pocket) is to watch from the box seat area. This is great because you have reserved seats and an amazing view for the entire day (or meet, if you feel so inclined!)
Plus, I know I mentioned this yesterday, but if it’s really sunny, Keeneland provides parasols. Parasols! Heaven.
If you’re feeling a little more low-key, another option is to hang out next to the paddock near the iconic Rolex clock. It’s where a lot of the 20- and 30-something crowd stays, since there’s a jumbotron showing the racing action and endless food and drink options. Plus, fans get a chance to see the horses up close in the paddock as they get ready to head to the track.
I always love seeing the wonder on kids’ faces when they see the racehorses up close. I think that’s how all racing fans secretly feel while we’re at the track. The horses truly are amazingly beautiful, powerful animals.
If you’re feeling really laid back, you can hang out on the North Terrace. You may recognize it as the area where the College Day registration took place yesterday, but on regular days it’s a place where fans can hang out with their friends and family. It almost has a picnic area feel to it, and it’s a great way to spend a relaxing weekend day.
Some fans like to spend their time inside, near one of the many bars. This area tends to be a little more festive, with people betting, cheering and celebrating each and every winner. It’s a ton of fun and a great mix of people.
Just outside of the second floor of the grandstand are these really cool balconies that overlook the paddock area. It’s a totally fun and glam place to hang out and a great vantage point to watch both the crowd and the horses.
You can check out my first couple of Keeneland Diaries to seethe tailgating scene in the parking lots, which is an amazing experience in and of itself. Definitely worth doing, especially if you can come here for a couple of days.
Now, onto the races! The crown of today’s contests was the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes (G1). This is a 1 1/8-mile test for 3-year-old fillies, and it was a seriously impressive field.
I started out in the paddock to watch the fillies get tacked up (meaning their trainers put the saddles on the horses). I love seeing the grooms interacting with their charges. Here’s Centre Court getting a reassuring pat on the nose from her caretaker.
The favorite, Stephanie’s Kitten, is a personal favorite of mine. She’s a very dainty and feminine filly, and she has tremendously long ears, which I am a sucker for.
Then the horses got on track to warm up. Dayatthespa looked as relaxed as if she actually had spent some time at a quality resort.
I love watching horses warm up on the track — the colors of the jockeys’ silks and the grace of the horses as they go through their paces is mesmerizing.
Then the horses came onto the turf course, where the starting gate crew was ready to assist them into their stalls.
And they were off!
At the end of the race, Dayatthespa took advantage of a great ride by jockey Javier Castellano, who kept her on the lead throughout the race and cruised home to win by two lengths.
The Queen Elizabeth II Cup was waiting for her connections after the race. It’s seriously beautiful, and I think it would look great in my apartment. (Keeneland, feel free to send one to me. Thanks in advance!)
When Dayatthespa got back to the stretch after her win, her trainer Chad Brown shared a congratulatory fist bump with Castellano.
Then, it was time for the win picture. Congratulations to Dayatthespa and her connections on the big victory!
Sadly, that’s it for my Keeneland Diaries for 2012. Thank you so much for stopping by, and I’ll be back with tons of photos in the week leading up to the Breeders’ Cup!