We're the horse capital of the world

Visit a farm, a sale or a race to capture Kentucky's love affair with the horse

fans have ample opportunities to enjoy state's equine industry

awincze@herald-leader.comSeptember 22, 2012 

If one did even a conservative estimate, the amount of acreage occupied by horse farms in the Bluegrass would total in the tens of thousands.

But the true magnitude of the equine industry in Kentucky is something that can only be cursorily measured by statistics.

The pulse of the state has long been tied to the heartbeat of its signature animal, both in terms of the financial impact that comes with the Thoroughbred industry and the emotional pride of being the self-proclaimed horse capital of the world.

Whether one is already a resident or planning a visit to Kentucky, there are several ways to get an insight as to why the love affair between the Bluegrass and its horses has endured and why it continues to pull in new suitors even in the most challenging of climates.

1. Go see a race, any race, at any track. Yes, the Kentucky Derby is the Holy Grail of prizes for horsemen. But for a majority of industry participants, simply getting a horse into the winner's circle is a life-altering achievement.

While nothing matches the glamour of the first Saturday in May, watching the emotional groom cheering his charge home at Ellis Park, the jubilant young jockey getting her first victory at Turfway Park or the longtime breeder seeing a horse he raised from birth get its first win anywhere can sufficiently tug at the heartstrings.

2. Visit a farm during foaling season. Every time a mare gives birth to a fuzzy colt or filly, a new set of dreams is born with it. Part of lure of Thoroughbred racing is that its next star can literally come from anywhere, so every gangly foal could very well be the sport's next champion. While several high-profile farms like Three Chimneys and Lane's End offer tours of their stallion complex, many will also try accommodate fans who would like to see their favorite former racemares.

Stonestreet Farm, home to 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, has held multiple "See Rachel" days for those wishing to get an up-close experience with the champion, who produced her first foal in January.

3. Take in the beauty and the detail of Thoroughbred Park in downtown Lexington. The 2.5 acre tribute to the Thoroughbred industry contains seven life-size bronze racehorses in a frozen-in-time battle to the wire, as well as statues of mares, foals and the legendary stallion Lexington.

In addition to checking out the plaques honoring notable figures in the industry, marvel at how sculptor Gwen Reardon was able to capture the drama and athleticism of the sport. Hardcore fans can really test themselves by trying to identify which famed racehorses are actually depicted.

4. People-watch at a Thoroughbred public auction. It's not every day one can see the ruler of Dubai (Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum), the founder of Public Storage (B. Wayne Hughes) and chef Bobby Flay all sharing the same space.

Yet, their shared passion for Thoroughbreds routinely brings their likes together at some of the major auctions at Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland. You may need an established line of credit to bid, but the auctions themselves are free to attend. Just don't get so engrossed watching country star Toby Keith walk by that you miss the horse bringing seven figures in the ring.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.

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