My only experience, if you even call it that, with horse racing has come from watching Secretariat (the movie, not the legendary racehorse himself) many, many times. I was also introduced to Mine That Bird, the 2009 Kentucky Derby champ when I worked at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal a couple of years ago.
But driving down the highway as horse farms passed to the right and left of my rental car provided such spectacular views that Hollywood could never do justice.
In Lexington, Kentucky, for the women’s basketball Sweet 16, I wanted to book one of the 3-hour tours that went to local horse farms and made a stop at Keeneland, the local race track. Little did I know that something called “The Road to the Horse,” was in town. I still have no clue what that was, but it did mean that tickets for the horse farm tours sold out quickly.
Desperate to visit one of the farms during my time there, I found Claiborne Farm. It had tickets available for a Saturday morning tour and I was all over it. After doing some research on its history, I realized I found the best farm in the area.
Secretariat was sired there and stood stud after his racing career. He’s buried on the grounds. Remember Bull Hancock and his son, Seth, from the movie? That’s who owned the farm. Seth’s son, Walker, is now at the helm.
Driving to the farm, fields that are contained by fences that you imagine to be painted white but are actually painted black because it’s thousands of dollars cheaper (fun fact learned on the tour) competed with my attention with the road in front of me. Thankfully, I was the only car on the highway because I kept looking left and then right and then left again as the horses roamed the field in the glow of the morning sun.
Most of the snow that was on the ground when I landed in Kentucky Thursday night had already melted away, revealing the fresh green grass that promised the arrival of Spring.
Once I arrived at the farm, everyone there for the tour — there were about 10 of us — someone asked if everyone was there for the “Road to the Horse.” As everyone else raised their hands and I shook my head, all eyes turned to me.
“Um, the women’s basketball tournament,” I said as they continued to stare before turning back to their own conversations.
The tour stayed on the stallion side of the farm. We didn’t go over to the mares. The first stop came at the breeding barn. And the one-liners the group of middle-aged women who were on the tour with me were fantastic. I probably shouldn’t print them here, of course, but just use your imagination. They had everyone rolling with laughter standing outside the black barn.
From there, we walked to a stable where Secretariat lived part of his life. You can see the names on the gold plates are the horses that stayed in each stall. Most of the stallions were out in the field, so off we went.
The first horse that the guide took us to was Orb. Yes, the 2013 Kentucky Derby winner.
Also, these horses really like to munch on peppermints.
So we each got to feed him a peppermint with the knowledge that if we moved our hand from the flat position of offering the treat to trying to pet him, Orb would bite us. And he almost got one of the ladies.
Orb was sired by Malibu Moon who also sired Magnum Moon who is undefeated this season and running in the Kentucky Derby. Magnum Moon won the Arkansas Derby by four lengths in his last race.
While Orb was this majestic creature — aka the horse is huge — it was hard to just focus on him as the sunlight peeked through the trees on the farm as the horses did their own thing in the fields. From Orb, we went to War Front, a world-class stallion.
We each got to take pictures with him, also aware to not pet him on his face or else he’d bite. And obviously, you never walk behind a horse. Common knowledge.
After hanging out with War Front, we walked through another stable to the cemetery where Secretariat was laid to rest. Bold Ruler is also there, along with other prestigious horses. Some of the biggest names in horse racing history now lay side by side on this hallowed ground of Claiborne Farm.
Obviously, I’m not as up to speed with the haps of the racing world like the other people in my tour group, but we all gathered around the tombstone of Secretariat, snapping pictures and thinking back to that horse’s legendary career.
I could have walked that farm all day long, camera in hand, capturing the splendor of a Kentucky horse farm. The Kentucky Derby is called the most exciting two minutes in sports, but you don’t want to rush your time at Claiborne Farm.