Derby Dreamin’: A Ride on the Derby Trail with A New Horse Owner
By Julie Wright
If there’s one thing I’ve heard a lot lately, it would be “it’s bananas.” Those words were repeatedly uttered by a friend and fellow member of the “Metaherd” – a large group of owners and other investors in Metaboss. Yep, the same Metaboss who won the El Camino Real Derby on Valentine’s Day, and last weekend ran in the Horseshoe Casino Spiral Stakes. It’s a pretty appropriate way to describe the feeling of having a colt who wins a Kentucky Derby prep and is one race away from actually qualifying – especially with this being our first foray into horse ownership!
Well, the Metaherd descended on Florence, KY, in force on Friday, March 20. Few of us were willing to pass on the chance to cheer on our boy in his attempt to gain 50 precious Kentucky Derby points. Most of us had actually never met in person, so this was also a chance to get some serious bonding time with some of “the best friends we’ve never met”. My sister Denise and I gladly made the seven-hour trip from Ontario to represent the Canadian part of the group… and yes, we took Tim Hortons donuts.
Upon arrival at the Hampton Inn, we were touched to see that they had provided all of us with a special welcome letter and a rose. I have to admit I was a little teary at that …and the weekend had barely started, sheesh.
After checking in and a little freshening up, it was off to the happy hour get together for beer, bourbon, and delicious food from City Barbeque. It was a real family reunion atmosphere and, yes, there was bonding over food, horses, and even Doctor Who! And we received lovely gifts; we were each presented with a beautiful Metaboss pin, and there was a raffle for some great racing swag.
Next it was off to Turfway Park for the Friday night card of racing. I didn’t bet (I never usually bet much anyway) but we had fun checking out the grandstand and watching trackside, and everyone wanted a Daily Racing Form with Metaboss on the cover. Some of the group headed off for some fun at the casino too, but at that point I needed some shut-eye.
Saturday morning came and brought with it the sunshine. Thank you, Mother Nature! After breakfast and a quick check of good luck Twitter messages from home, it was time to head back to the track – this time dressed more like owners of a Derby contender.
I really liked Turfway Park. It has character and I love the large trackside apron area, which means loads of room to find a good spot to watch the races. And how cool are the free Spiral Stakes hats they handed out? Well played, Turfway, well played.
After hitting the gift shop we headed up to the 4th floor Bluegrass Suites, and being the first to arrive, of course, we grabbed the best table. We received yet another great welcome from the staff at Turfway.
Anytime there’s a great buffet, I’m happy. Of course, I also had to try the official Spiral stakes drink!
Did a little exploring after lunch and met the lovely folks from CANTER and Second Stride, who were there showcasing the great work they do for retired Thoroughbreds!
Of course we had to get a group photo, and what better place that the walking ring. Told you there was a herd of us!
Fortunately, all this socializing, eating and exploring the track distracted me from being nervous about Metaboss. One of my friends sent me a Facebook message asking how my butterflies were. I replied by saying that they had gone away but they’d be sure to come back in time for the Spiral post parade.
One of the best things about being at the racetrack is the ability to get up close and personal with trainers and jockeys. I had a nice chat with Malcolm Pierce about his filly Don’t Leave Me (entered in the Bourbonette Oaks) and, of course, we wished good luck to our jockey Alex Solis, who was so sweet to come out and chat with us.
I was really impressed with Don’t Leave Me after seeing her in the paddock, so I decided that was my pick for the Bourbonette Oaks.
It was great to see Don’t Leave Me win for Malcolm Pierce and owner Pin Oak Stable. What a great race from a lovely filly.
All right, time for the main event… and right on schedule here come the butterflies.
I did bet on Metaboss, of course, in the Spiral. I also did an Exactor (Exacta in the U.S.) box with Metaboss, Conquest Typhoon and Dubai Sky. My usual handicapping strategy… a Canadian horse and a trainer I like… can’t go too far wrong with Bill Mott.
Now, Turfway has no infield screen, so this was real old-school race watching – no binoculars, squinting like mad trying to catch a glimpse of those blue and white silks, and trying to hear Mike Battaglia’s race call on the PA. I remember hearing Metaboss’ name as they came around the turn into the stretch, and that got my hopes up. But sadly it wasn’t our day. They went by us with our boy in mid-pack and, as hard as he tried, he just couldn’t make ground on the leaders. Darn you, Dubai Sky making off with our 50 points!
As you can imagine, we were a pretty deflated group after the race, but we took it in stride. You have to in racing because unless your horse’s name is Zenyatta you’re not going to win every time. Metaboss came out of the race in good shape, and he’s still got a bright future.
Afterwards we headed back to the hotel and basically took over the entire lobby, where we enjoyed some drinks and pizza, traded handicapping stories, and got a private acoustic guitar set from Kentucky musician Ron Burden. Nothing like a little Johnny Cash to soothe your woes.
A final surprise awaited us in the morning when we found out that all of us could visit Metaboss in person! Giving him some love and attention and seeing how great he looked the day after really lifted everyone’s spirits. There WILL be other races! He looked fabulous, a real credit to our trainer Jeff Bonde and his team. We made sure to thank Jeff’s crew personally for all their hard work.
We may not have qualified for the Kentucky Derby but we did we watch some terrific racing and cement friendships? You bet we did. And I learned that even if there’s only room for 20 horses in the Derby starting gate, our group can attest to the fact that there’s room for almost everyone on the Derby trail. Best of luck to all those still dreaming Derby dreams, go get ‘em in Louisville!
We thank Julie for sharing her story in this blog. You can follow her on Twitter @reddogcw.