Each day of the Spring Meet, Herald-Leader racing writer Maryjean Wall will look at life behind the scenes at Keeneland.
The troops landed yesterday at Keeneland. Many of us felt blessed by their presence and appreciative of the patriotic sentiment they brought us to feel.
U.S. Army soldiers in uniform -- 1,000 of them -- roamed Keeneland, enjoying themselves on occasion of the track's first outward reach to Fort Knox. The soldiers are all in various stages of training.
Because they're in training, they're not permitted to use tobacco products, alcohol or to gamble. Many were picking horses to win and cheering them home -- but without going to the betting windows to put money on them.
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"They come from all 50 states and the territories, so I'm sure there are a few that know about horse racing," said Master Sgt. Anthony Wesley.
Twenty-three busloads arrived from Fort Knox. The soldiers marked in columns to the track's walking ring where the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra and the 202nd Army Band played The Stars and Stripes Forever.
The troops then marched to the trackside rail and stood at attention for the National Anthem. People applauded them all the way through the grounds. Later, some patrons gave up their tables to the soldiers.
Pvt. Michael Andrews of Lufkin, Texas, was among soldiers watching the races from the grandstand, where several sections were reserved for them.
"It's great, ma'am," he said when asked how their day was going. "You walk through the door and the hospitality makes you feel good about being a soldier. It makes you feel like people actually care."
Andrews said he is a horse lover and has been to the quarter horse races in his home state. He also has a mustang at home that his family tamed after acquiring it at auction from the Bureau of Land Management.
Specialist Chris Ream of Seattle, Wash., said this was his first time at a track. He thought it "kind of exciting to see the horses."
Christa Marrillia, special events coordinator at Keeneland, told how some in the track crowd were passing their cell phones to soldiers so they could phone home.
"I think it's fantastic," Col. Peter Utley said about military day at the track. "It's always nice for the American public to show their appreciation and it's so great for the soldiers to get to go among the people they're defending."