Keeneland

Trainer's death makes for emotional Lexington Stakes

Linda White leaned against the shedrow of Keeneland's Barn 5 Thursday morning, her emotions rising and falling along with the gentle tone of her voice.

For the first time in the 30 years she has been involved in racing, White is visiting the self-proclaimed Horse Capital of the World, staying at a picturesque breeding farm as she prepares to saddle one of the top contenders in a Kentucky Derby prep race.

Under normal circumstances, it would be an ideal trip for White.

But for the veteran horsewoman and everyone else fortunate enough to have known trainer Alan Seewald, the past several days have been nothing short of devastating.

When stakes winner Uptowncharlybrown goes to post in Saturday's Grade II Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, the handsome chestnut colt will be unaware that he carries more than the race weight of 117 pounds on hisback.

Early Monday morning, Seewald — trainer of Uptowncharlybrown — died unexpectedly in his sleep in his Middletown, N.J., home at the age of 62.

In addition to the respect Seewald commanded as a horseman — he saddled 962 winners since 1984 — the Brooklyn native possessed an easygoing attitude and fierce loyalty that earned him even greater esteem as a person.

Despite their collective grief, the connections of Uptowncharlybrown decided to press on to the $300,000 Lexington Stakes.

"I can't tell you how bad I hope this horse wins this race. It would just ... it would really lift everybody up," said White, the longtime assistant to Seewald who will now be the trainer of record for Uptowncharlybrown. "They want it so bad for Al. He wanted this, he planned this, he developed this horse and he would want this horse to run.

"To come here under these circumstances and to be in horse mecca," a wistful White continued. "I'm staying on a breeding farm and looking out and seeing the rolling hills and the whole thing and then with the grief we have. The emotions are just all over the place this week."

Originally picked out by Seewald at a 2-year-old sale last year in Florida, Uptowncharlybrown is well versed in fairy-tale results.

The son of Limehouse is owned by Fantasy Lane Stable, a partnership made up of 59 people and headed by Seewald's longtime friend Bob Hutt.

The partnership got a taste of what it's like to have a horse on the Triple Crown trail when Uptowncharlybrown won his first two starts by a combined 15 lengths and then ran third in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 13.

Though his Kentucky Derby chances likely ended after he finished fifth in the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby on March 13, Uptowncharlybrown had already gained a devoted following — as evidenced by the more than 1,000 fans on his Facebook page.

"It's been wonderful. He's come through for us," White said of the lightly raced colt. "He broke his maiden in a big way, took the Pasco Stakes real nice. In the Tampa Bay Derby, he just had a bad trip. He got boxed in on the rail and he never had a chance to really run, but it's been great. It has really pulled people together."

More important, Uptowncharlybrown has given Seewald's family and friends a much-needed positive distraction in recent days.

"Because I talked to Alan so often, I can't tell you how often I think, 'I have to call Al' and then it will hit me again," said White, who is staying at Tony Ocampo's Rose Hill Farm, co-breeder of Uptowncharlybrown. "I'll think, 'I have to tell Al about this.' For him not to be here and experience this ..."

Regardless of where Uptowncharlybrown finishes Saturday, White already has one indelible memory from her first trip to Lexington.

On Wednesday night while shopping at Macy's, White received a call from Ocampo that Uptowncharlybrown's dam, La Iluminada, was about to foal the colt's half-sister.

"I guess it is all part of the cycle of life. There's a death and then a birth with new life," White said.

Services for Seewald were to be held in New Jersey on Thursday night. And as those closest to him will attest, the outpouring of emotion on his behalf will not end any time soon.

"You don't even realize until something like this happens how many people were connected to this man," White said. "He had so many people who considered him to be their best friend.

"I miss him. I will miss him every day."

'Charlybrown' favored

Keeneland oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has adjusted the morning-line for the Coolmore Lexington Stakes to make Uptowncharlybrown the 4-1 favorite for Saturday with Connemara and Kettle River the co-second choice picks at 5-1. Battaglia originally had Kettle River as the 4-1 favorite in the preliminary morning line on Wednesday.

  Comments