Friday evening after the conference wrapped up our group travelled by bus to Churchill Downs for evening racing they have dubbed Downs After Dark. We had learned from one of our speakers that the race course needed to attract more patrons and one of its ideas was to market itself as a destination. Downs After Dark of course included racing and betting but it was also themed with a Rockin’ in the USA theme the night we visited. Red, white and blue was the standard for dress along with live music. Folks were out for the evening dressed in their finest patriotic colors.
Early Saturday morning we were back in the bus and headed back to Lexington to visit more farms. The first stop was The Thoroughbred Training Center including The North American Racing Academy. The training center caters to trainers who have one or two horses. Trainers rent stalls in the numerous barns and have access to the training track as well as the services of professional outriders which from the sounds of things are life savers in many ways. Exercise riders and jockeys start around 10:00 after they are done with their larger barns and ride for a couple of hours. We learned about track protocols, the work of the out riders and some of the entrepreneurial businesses that support the training center.
The North American Racing Academy is the brain child of Chris McCarron and Remi Bellocq in partnership with Bluegrass Community & Technical College. The two year program is comparable to the schools in Europe that prepare students for the racing industry. Two tracks are offered one for jockeys and exercise riders and a second for horse care and training. We were lucky enough to meet Chris and Remi and listen to them talk about the academy, the challenges they face and the success of their graduates.
The next stop on our tour was Dixiana Farm – wow what a change of pace! This is a large breeding farm with beautiful barns, rolling pastures, white fences and very happy horses. We toured the brood mare barn and the yearling barn and learned more about the preparation of the horses for the sales. We enjoyed listening to the Irish Farm Manager as he talked about the various ways he cares for the mares and foals and the techniques he uses to prepare the yearlings for the sales. All the yearlings are called by their dams name so the owner can have the pleasure of selecting an appropriate race name.
Next up was Margeaux Farms which is another breeding farm again run by an Irish manager. This is a “for profit” barn that provides boarding and training for mares and young stock. The facility itself is not as fancy as Dixiana Farm but the care given to the horses was equally as impressive. All the horses were turned out as much as possible and allowed to run and play in the large fields.
Gainsway Farm was the next stop on the tour. Gainsway stands such stallions as Tapit, who commands a stud fee of $150,000 due to the success of his get. Afleet Alex who won the Preakness and the Belmont and Birdstone also live in one of the specially built stallion barns. Their lives as breeding stallions include turnout in lush green pastures and a busy schedule in the breeding shed.
The final stop of the day was Pin Oak Stud owned by Mrs. Abercrombie and managed by another Irishman. Brood mares and foals as well as a very spacious stallion barn make up this beautifully appointed farm. New born foals and their mothers are introduced to the herd through the use of temporary pens set up in the pastures to allow everyone to safely become acquainted. The walls of the office are lined with pictures of racing victories from horses bred on the farm.
This tour and the pre-conference tour were exceptional opportunities to see the horse industry at work. The level of horsemanship and care that goes into raising and training thoroughbreds for the racetrack is extraordinary. I did not know much about the racing industry before this, but I now have a great level of respect for the people that work in this industry. I hope down the road to be able to take our students on a similar tour so they can appreciate that the industry they are interested in is much greater than just their own little pocket of experience.
|Thoroughbred Training Center|
|Husband Len with Chris McCarron|
|One of the barns at Dixiana Farm|
|The breeding shed at Gainsway|
|One view at Margeaux Farm|
|A Stallion at Pin Oak Stud|