Keeneland is a special place for horse racing fans of every level, and the track is at its most remarkable on major race days. Arguably the biggest day on the track’s racing calendar is the Blue Grass Stakes, and Saturday’s experience didn’t disappoint.
The morning of Blue Grass dawned clear and cool, and as I headed to the track I had that wonderful feeling of anticipation and excitement that envelops my psyche every morning of a Triple Crown prep race.
When I arrived at the press box to set up shop, I was greeted with the happiest sight a food-obsessed breakfast enthusiast can see: approximately three square feet of glazed donuts to give the journos and photogs a much-needed early-morning sugar rush.
Keeneland really is the happiest place on Earth.
After scarfing down tons of what basically amounts to breakfast cake, I headed out to the track to see what people were up to. As the day warmed and the crowds began to arrive, I spotted some great horse racing fashion. I love how people enjoy dressing up for a trip to the track – it totally adds to the glamor of a day at the races.
I was especially in love with this girl’s hat; I so wish I could rock a chapeau at the races, but it would be pretty poor form if I were taking photos of a race and my hat blew off into the path of oncoming horses.
After I was done creepily taking candid pictures of people, I headed into the crowd to take in the sights of Blue Grass Day to share with you. Keeneland always does its best to give fans a complete entertainment package, and Saturday was no exception; to start the day off, there was an incredibly talented high school orchestra on hand to welcome fans to the races.
I also ran into Miss Kentucky 2012, Jessica Casebolt. She looked lovely (another great hat!) and was graciously posing for photos with fans.
I also caught this group teaming up to ask a life-changing question; how sweet is this? I hope the answer was a resounding “yes!”
Of course, the real stars of the show are the horses, and the Keeneland paddock showcases them beautifully.
The paddock is also a great place to see the jockeys getting ready to ride; it’s always a wonderful sight to see them pouring out of the jockeys’ room in their bright silks to find their horses and get last-minute instructions from trainers.
As the day wore on, people continued to stream in. Everyone was here to have fun and see some top-notch horses run and the crowd was large, happy and boisterous.
And all of these fans were treated to some spectacular sport on an absolutely beautiful afternoon.
One of my favorite moments of the day came when I was walking behind Javier Castellano, who was on his way back the jockeys’ room to get ready for his next race. While he was emerging from the tunnel, this young woman saw him and begged for a picture. She was so excited to get to meet him in person: she kept repeating “Oh my God!” over and over. Javi was awesome and posed for several photos with her. That’s another thing I love about this game – that our stars are super-accessible and always delighted to stop and spend time with fans.
Then it was time for the featured races of the day! The first stakes race (the toughest level of competition in racing) on Saturday was the Commonwealth. The race was won by Handsome Mike for owner J. Paul Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez, the same connections who won last year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness with I’ll Have Another. Mario is such a great guy; he’s a tremendous rider, and he’s always so humble and happy after a win. I was delighted to see him in the Keeneland winner’s circle.
After that, it was time for me to head on over to the NBC production trucks to get your tweets on the broadcast of the Blue Grass Stakes and the Arkansas Derby. While I was on my way there, the most remarkable thing happened to me: this little guy came right up to me and sat on my shoe. Obviously I could not resist the cuteness and picked him right up. So adorable!
The best part was that, after the two-and-a-half hour show, I emerged from the production truck to find the same little dude asleep in the hood of one of the crew members’ sweatshirts.
After my close encounter with a wild animal, it was time to get to work in the graphics truck. This place looks like you could land the space shuttle from there; it’s pretty cool, but it’s also a very high-stress environment during a live broadcasts going into a million houses nationwide! It was a treat to have the experience.
At the end of the day, there were great races broadcast to a huge amount of people, and Keeneland and Oaklawn Park looked absolutely beautiful and inviting on the shows. The Kentucky Derby gained two new potential stars when Java’s War won the Blue Grass in breathtaking last-to-first fashion and Overanalyze proved his doubters wrong by winning the Arkansas Derby convincingly.
I wrapped up my trip to Lexington by visiting a friend’s farm, where I got to meet Enchanted Rock, who is the mother of probable Kentucky Derby favorite Verrazano. This mare is HUGE – as in the top of her back (called the withers, which is where you measure how tall a horse is) was well over my head. And I’m not a short girl. It was a wonderful experience, and I even got to meet her baby from this year, an adorable filly who’s a full sister to Verrazano. Unfortunately, the baby was a little camera-shy, but her mama was a star who posed perfectly with me.
Well, that’s it for my Triple Crown prep season Diaries – thank you all for stopping by, and I’ll be back with all of the action out of Louisville for my Kentucky Derby Diaries.