There are certainly those magical places in the world today. And for those that don’t believe…make a trip to Versailles, Kentucky.
There may be some that are yet to realize Thoroughbred horse racing really is something special. During a brief window in both the spring and fall, a show that rivals Penn and Teller takes place in the heart of horse country. Nestled nicely in the Kentucky countryside, Keeneland Race Course is way more than a levitating lady. Since 1936, this place has seen many of the sports great performers toe the track. And on April 8, 2017, we were all reminded that Houdini and horsemen still go together.
Sunshine and a glorious Spring day greeted over 30,000 onlookers on Bluegrass Stakes day. The first big rabbit came out of the hat in the grade 2 Shakertown. Now of course, all the races are special, but when the unexpected happens… oh my. Going off at 18 to1 and the longest shot in the field, Holding Gold ran behind the front runners in the 5 ½ furlong turf race. Choosing his path carefully, jockey Joel Rosario hit the gas pedal and motored up between horses to take the grass sprint for trainer Mark Casse. Some pick four tickets were torn up early, but hey, what excitement.
David Copperfield took the stage again in the ninth race. The Central Bank Ashland Stakes is a key prep for the Kentucky Oaks. A fine group of three-year old fillies went to post with glory beneath the twin spires in mind. Sailor’s Valentine was certainly one of the more striking with her beautiful gray coat, but good looks seldom win horse races and she was the longest shot in the field at 22 to 1. After a scintillating mile and a sixteenth, the Eddie Kenneally trained sweetheart sent her connections into a frenzy as her strong finish proved she is more than just a pretty face. The pace stalking run and big stretch move saw owners Semaphore Racing and Homewrecker Racing enjoying the thrill of victory in an oh so magical moment in time.
Two of the first four stakes saw monumental moves by lightly regarded runners with the featured Toyota Bluegrass still to come. And that is where the lady got sawed in half. Having never won before, it was no surprise that West coast shipper Irap was 31 to 1 as the seven Kentucky Derby contenders loaded. Two- time Derby winning trainer Doug O’Neill had confidence in his colt even if nobody else did. Breaking alertly under jockey Julian Leparoux, this son of Tiznow took advantage of softer early fractions and stalked the pace. Heading into the far turn the Frenchman hit the gas and Irap flew to the lead. Strongly running down the stretch, Irap held off all challenges and ran his way into the starting gates on the first Saturday in May. A runner had never broken his maiden in the previous 92 runnings of the Bluegrass, but alas a wave of the wand yielded more magic on the grand stage known as Keeneland.
In an ever-changing world that has many concerned for various reasons, we can all take solace in the fact magical places like that oval in Versailles are alive and well.