Horses

POSTCARDS FROM THE TRACK

Each day of the Spring Meet, Herald-Leader racing writer Maryjean Wall will look at life behind the scenes at Keeneland.

Shop talk in the Keeneland paddock can be all about some of the goofy incidents that have occurred while trying to get the horses to the track in timely, properly numbered order. There's the one about the fully-saddled horse who sat down like a dog on his haunches in the paddock. And refused to get up.

When finally he did consent to rise, he shook himself off, walked out on the track in a dignified manner, and won his race. Go figure.

Getting the horses out of the paddock in proper order and into the walking ring before each race is no easy task. At Keeneland, a team of three makes sure this takes place smoothly.

"The worst thing I ever saw was before the jumping race here (April 20)," said assistant paddock judge Mary Ellen Kegel. "One horse was running down the paddock like a kangaroo while they were trying to put the saddle on him. He was taking 20-foot leaps. Everybody around me just dove to get behind a tree."

Randy Wehrman, the paddock judge, recalled seeing a horse during the first week of the meet aim with both hind legs at someone. If the horse had connected, that would have hurt.

The third team member, horse identifier Barbara Borden, recalls a horse getting loose in the paddock a few years ago. It ran at full speed the length of the paddock, trying to go through the gate to go back to its barn. It ran over a couple of people.

No one other than horse owners, trainers, and media are supposed to go into the paddock or the walking ring. But many more people always seem to make their way into these places. Not all of them understand horses. Most are not paying attention.

A word of advice to the unmounted: the saddling tree for horses No. 3 and No. 4 seems to be the site of the most unnerving incidents, even though it looks like a quiet spot.

Staying in touch by radio, each of the three paddock officials works a different section, making sure the horses have the right equipment and are ready to go.

If it weren't for their organizational skills, the paddock probably would be total chaos.

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