Not many horsemen readily embrace change. It's an understandable push-back considering the equine athletes they care for are creatures that thrive on routine.
With Keeneland hosting the Breeders' Cup World Championships for the first time this October 30-31, the fraternity of trainers that take up residence at the track's Rice Road barns — as well as some of their nearby brethren — are going to soldier through a slew of adjustments in the name of keeping the big show moving forward.
Among the many things that make Keeneland unique is that it is one of the only racetracks that allows the public access to its stable area. With increased security needed for its Breeders' Cup runners and front-side space necessary for those horses selling at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale, a more guarded stabling area had to be created for those slated to compete during to the two-day event.
Enter the nine barns that make up the Rice Road training area, across from the Keeneland back entrance and training track.
Breeders' Cup is going to use the Rice Road barns to house all those horses running in Breeders' Cup races and on the undercard. Hence all those outfits that normally lease barns there are having to move out for about seven weeks beginning in late September.
Among those housed in the 356 stalls on Rice Road are strings trained by Rusty Arnold, Phil Sims, Andrew McKeever and Charlie LoPresti — whose most famous resident is two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan.
Rogers Beasley, vice president of racing for Keeneland, said track officials began notifying the Rice Road horsemen 16 months ago of the fact they would temporarily have to move out of their normal space by around Sept. 26 of this year. In an effort to compensate the horsemen for the inconvenience, Beasley said Keeneland has agreed to pay the stall rent, where applicable, at whichever facility the horsemen use as their interim home for the seven weeks they are displaced.
"There is still disappointment because it is moving and that's always disappointing to people, but we've made it fair to them by paying the stall rent ... up to the same amount they would pay if they would pay us here," Beasley said. "We realize it's an imposition, but by paying the rent we think we can take care of people.
"I think a lot of them understand. We're trying to do this for the Breeders' Cup in Kentucky."
One outlet the Rice Road horsemen can use is the Keeneland-owned Thoroughbred Center training facility off Paris Pike.
Beasley said Keeneland has secured 240 stalls at the Thoroughbred Center that Rice Road-based trainers can apply for, and LoPresti is among those who has said he will take them up on the offer.
Jim Pendergest, general manager of the Thoroughbred Center, said the exact number of Keeneland horses expected to be housed there has not been finalized. And while the arrangement will also force some trainers based there to temporarily shift out of their normal barns, Pendergest said provisions are already in place so that no outfit based at the Thoroughbred Center will have to move off the grounds.
"We won't know until we get the notice from Keeneland how many people are coming over here. But the ones on our place will move into Barn D, which is the barn closest to Paris Pike," Pendergest said. "We've been taking this opportunity to do some work on it, freshen it up. We've been in the process of reworking the stall floors, painting the inside and outside of the barn and getting it ready for the big move.
"Nobody really wants to move, but our guys have been good about it."
Added trainer John Gaver, who is based at the Thoroughbred Center, "It's generous of Keeneland to accommodate those folks who have to move with a couple months worth of free stall rent. We can make due as long as we're able to stay and train our horses and have a stall for them. I supposed that's all we can ask for at the end of the day, just try to keep the show going."
Trainers joke that trying to make every horseman happy is often a lost cause. Most of the ones slated to be affected by the Breeders' Cup situation are, to their credit, taking it handily in stride.
Arnold says he plans to move his string to a front-side barn during the Keeneland Fall Meet and then will shift to Churchill Downs after that for its meet. Since several horsemen head to Florida or Louisiana in the winter anyhow, Arnold said the Rice Road situation will mostly just result in him getting packed and organized a bit sooner.
"I'm fortunate enough to have the ability to run over at Churchill so it's not going to bother me, and I go on to Florida anyway on the last day of November," Arnold said. "When you're talking to horsemen, we're always going to complain. There is going to be some concern. But it's the Breeders' Cup and they have to do what they have to do and everyone ends up making some concessions about it."