Applause greets soldiers at Keeneland appreciation

More than 1,000 soldiers marched into Keeneland on Sunday amid applause and shouts from a crowd eager to express their gratitude to the men and women who chose to serve their country.

The soldiers, who are participating in basic training in Fort Knox, then dispersed for fun, food and phone calls to relatives in their hometowns, a few of the highlights during Military Appreciation Day at the track.

Windstream Communications provided 50 land-line phones for the event, and several people, including Keeneland employees, donated cell phones.

The soldiers get few opportunities to chat with their families during basic training.

Pvt. Conrad White of Marianna, Fla., was pleased to have a chance to talk to his wife, who is due to have a child in August, and his 7-year-old daughter.

Pvt. Douglas Williams of Orofino, Idaho, said he was relieved to know his family was doing well. Williams called his mother, with whom he had not spoken in three weeks, from one of the Windstream phones.

"She was really surprised," he said. "It was really nice to hear the excitement in her voice."

After Pvt. Michael Agunzo of Long Island, N.Y., spoke to his mother on a cell phone, he said the phone donations showed how much people care about the troops.

There were a few additions to the event this year — the fourth in which Keeneland has brought in troops. For the first time, some of the soldiers lined the inside of the track during the feature race, and each horse had a camouflage saddle towel.

The jockeys signed the winning saddle towel, and it will be auctioned on eBay to benefit USA Cares, which provides financial and advocacy assistance to military personnel, veterans and their families.

Keeneland president Nick Nicholson said organizers try to make the event bigger and better each year.

"I don't think anybody can go through today and not be touched," he said.