SEARCHING FOR SECRETARIAT- October, 1984
It had been a long day’s drive from Kansas City to Lexington, Kentucky. I was getting that spaced out feeling from being on the road too long as I headed to my hometown in West Virginia. Ahead of me I noticed a sign that read Keeneland Race Track. I knew that Lexington was the heart of thoroughbred racing. But I knew little about the sport other than following the career of Secretariat, the Triple Crown winner. At that moment, I decided that I had to see the greatest race horse of all time. I knew that he was a Kentucky horse and wondered if someone at Kenneland could put me on his trail. It was one of those crazy ideas that never work out, but seem possible when operating in the cloud of a driving haze.
At Keeneland I found a parking space and surveyed the outside of the race track. Then I entered the first entrance I could find. There were some men milling about and horses being led by grooms. I must have looked perplexed because a man approached me and asked if he could help. I shook his hand and we introduced ourselves. He was a trainer and he asked if I was interested in horses. Of course I said yes. We chatted for a few minutes and then he said he would like to show me around the racetrack, but he had to get some horses ready to race. I had heard of Kentucky hospitality, but this was a bit much and I wondered if the trainer thought I was someone important in the world of horse racing. I decided to push my luck, fully expecting him to laugh, and asked him if there was any way that I could see Secretariat.
He graciously informed me that Secretariat was not kept in Lexington, but at Claiborne Farms in Paris, Kentucky. He also said that it took a reservation months in advance to see the race horse. Nice try I thought as I shook his hand and thanked him for being so kind to a stranger. But then that rare moment that you live for happened and he said he knew the lady who worked the guard gate at Claiborne Farms and that he would make a call and try to get me in. He directed me to Paris, Kentucky and there was no way I was not going to go. I approached the guard gate at Claiborne Farms fully expecting to get the old Kentucky boot, because the trainer had forgotten to make the call or a zillion other reasons for not letting a stranger in to see the racing legend.
I gave my name to the lady at the gate and explained my situation. To my complete surprise she replied that the trainer had indeed made the call. She signed me in and then told me to walk up the hill to the barn and a groom would bring out Secretariat. I had anticipated that if I did get to see the horse it would be with a large tour group, but had not imagined that it would just be me, the horse and the groom. At the top of the hill I waited a moment in the cool October air and then Secretariat came sauntering out led by a groom. He was just as I had imagined, big and red and beautiful. I asked the groom if I could take some pictures and he informed me that Big Red liked to have his picture taken so I snapped away.
I chatted with the groom for a few minutes and then thanked him for taking the time to show me the greatest race horse of all time. It was a special moment that had turned a boring drive into an unforgettable experience.