Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Turk visits Churchill Downs

The Turk had himself a real special day yesterday. Business brought the Turk to Louisville for eight hours which ended quickly. Unable to secure passage on an earlier flight, I did what any self respecting horseplayer would do: I went to Churchill Downs.

I arrived moments before a "backside and barn tour" was starting. To my astonishment, I was the only person signed up for the tour, so a lovely young lady named Tiffany drove me around for over an hour. There was something special about seeing the barns, and the different ways the various trainers keep them. It was also fascinating to see the culture of the backside workers too. Most travel by bike and live above the barns. There is a Church, a recreation building, and an education center where the backside workers can study towards a GED and learn about citizenship requirements, as well as increase their knowledge of horse grooming and handling. There appears to be a sincere effort to provide community to these workers who live at the lowest edges of the poverty line. Inside the Museum, there is an exhibit of art work created by backside workers. I was very impressed by the creativity and quality of the art created in all sorts of creative media.

After returning from the barn and backside tour, the Turk signed up for what is called a “behind the scenes tour”. We started in the Jockey’s room. Everyone who’s ever watched race coverage on Derby Day is familiar with this room. The couch where Robby Albarado or Calvin Borel sit slumped in, answering inane questions as they try to relax, was surreal to see. The room is spacious but spartan, with ping pong tables, and is next to the locker room and scales. A separate female jockey room is adjacent, but the Turk wasn’t allowed in there for some reason!

From the Jockey’s Room we headed into the Grandstand, but not before crossing through the paddock. I stood in the Pink 8 stall and imagined the Jackson’s and Mike Matz saddling Barbaro just three Derby’s ago.

Just outside of Millionaires Row we stood on the balcony overlooking the Winner’s Circle, the Finish Line, and of course, the Spires. I stood in sensory overload as my camera clicking away. My eyes closed and I visualized of the previous 134 Derby Winner’s crossing that line. I could see the devils red and blue stripped Calumet Farm horses streaking down the stretch run. I could see Affirmed and Alydar. I could see Chris Antley on Charismatic, both horse and jockey reaching a high water mark. Great stuff.

The Turk is a religious man, and I thanked my God for allowing me the opportunity and the time to come to Churchill Downs and see it like this, quiet and invoking.

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