by John Engelhardt

posted on September 12, 2012 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>

One of the curious pleasures of life is doing something you’ve never done before… I Checked the weather forecast, grabbed a road map, and headed out to a weekend adventure through winding roads, peppered with working farms and fields of freshly grown tobacco yellow tipped and ready for harvest.

Though a destination was in mind, a spider web of country back roads was the path of choice. A sunset view was in the offering about two hours ahead… Ah, sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. I was heading down Route 55 taking it all in when reality reared its ugly head: “Maintenance Required” the light flashed alarmingly on the dashboard. Great, miles from nowhere and no big city in sight, so I drove until the next small town. The sign said Pleasureville, Kentucky; a good omen I had to assume.

I pulled into a small Carry Out, popped the hood and stared at the mechanical marvel. I couldn’t even check the oil on this thing, let alone figure out where the maintenance was required. Shut the hood, looked for oil leaks and got some directions from some bibbed overall locals for directions to continue on. It was a brief visit to Pleasureville.

The winding roads eventually led to The Bourbon Trail where you can discover the rich history and proud tradition of “America’s Official Native Spirit.”  I went on to weave through the epicenter of cave country in the U.S. (not sure who lived in those caves) and had to pass on Dinosaur World with over 150 live-sized dinosaurs. As that sun did eventually glow orange on the blue hued grass I drove past the Barren River Imaginative Museum of Science (I guess you imagine there is a river there). Temptation set in when the sign for the National Corvette Museum popped up, since someone there might know about this glowing “Maintenance Required” light, but I decided to move on.

There it was, “Exit 2”,  and a quick left led me to a huge well-lit building with a sign stating “Welcome to Kentucky Downs.” Not knowing the layout I made my way upstairs and stumbled in what turned out to be a Bingo Room. A pleasant man recognized my lost look and asked if he could help. “I’m looking to meet a friend here who is in for the handicapping contest.” Almost without hesitation he said, “Ed Meyer?” Don’t ask me how he knew, but he directed me to the lower level simulcasting section and the first guy I see is Ed.

It was sheer coincidence we both landed there. On the way down I called him just to talk and found out we were both headed the same way. We went on to the bar to witness Rapid Redux toy with a field at Charles Town for his 17th consecutive win. Not bad for a horse that had run in $5,000 claimers, “You’ve got to have heart.”  I used to watch his momma run in River Downs in stakes company at River Downs and now her son was only 2 wins away from the legendary feat of Pepper’s Pride and Zenyatta.

Morning came too quick, but adrenaline replaced caffeine as the Kentucky Downs experience was about to begin. The main building has a Colonial appeal on the outside, but a few steps in and to the left your see an apparent slots parlor and a swivel to the right you are looking at an upscale OTB, complete with a casino-class buffet.  In the next room I found the familiar smiling face of Jude Feld who was coordinating a handicapping contest. After conversation it was on to view America’s most European racecourse.

Before I hit the door I came face to friendly face with Bob Reeves and his lovely wife Sarah. “Who are you with?” he asked. “I’m just here by myself,” I replied. “Not anymore. There’s our table, have a seat.” It’s a small world, Bob and I had bred a nice allowance together back in ’99. She was by his stallion Private School, who won the Ohio Derby. We had fun, she paid her way and upon retirement he pretty much gave her to me as a broodmare.

The road through Pleasureville brought me to a fun night with “Steady Eddie” watching Rapid Redux, now I’m wearing a buffet band with two more good friends and have yet to be out to see the track on a gorgeous day. This must be Pleasureville South on the Tennessee border!

I threw my camera over my shoulder and walked out to the front porch to get a first glimpse of the track. It was everything as described. Chantilly meets the County Fair. Blessed with fine weather, the expansive turf course glowed with green. The apron, which at most racetracks is asphalt, was a manicured picnic area. Families threw down blankets and had plenty of room to move.

The finish line is almost a furlong from the main building, but the fans see plenty of the long, a somewhat uphill stretch run that really tests the mettle of the steeds that partake in this boutique meet.

As you near the finish line you’ll pass through festive red and white striped tents with long family-style tables. It is pretty packed with what appear to be local residents taking in the fare out of food trucks offering a variety of choices at very fair prices.

Just beyond this area you’ll come upon the jockey’s quarters, which is a trailer. Outside each jock has a plastic chair with their pail of cool water to sponge off after each race. Duct tape is pasted above each chair with names like Borel, Court, Guidry and Lebron written in sharpie on them.

The management team of Kentucky Downs, headed up by Corey Johnson, has done an outstanding job of appealing to horse players on all levels at this quaint but modern facility. Their gamble on the use of Instant Racing has paid off by the ability to offer top-notch purses. Time is fleeting and the meet is brief.  If you have a “Bucket List” of racing this better be in it! Trust me, it is a true racing pleasure.

Oh, by the way, if you drive your car far enough that “Maintenance Required” light goes out.