Backstretch With Gordon: Hello old friend!

Gordon Waterstone

Lexington, KY — What a glorious Thursday morning in the Bluegrass State! I wasn’t up at the crack of dawn but people at The Red Mile told me when I arrived that the sunrise was spectacular! Again, what a difference from last week’s miserable conditions on Jug Day at Delaware, Ohio, when the wind chill made 53 degrees feel more like 33 degrees.

My highlight of Jug Day actually came when I stopped at Brian Brown’s barn and I somehow landed in a duet with Amy Hollar singing “The sun’ll come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun.” It reminded me of why I refuse to do karaoke, but Amy got me out of my comfort zone for a few minutes.

The weather will continue to be nice here in Lexington for the first two race cards with temperatures hovering in the high 70s, but Sunday now appears a bit dicey with the prediction of rain. Kentucky plays Florida here Saturday night at 6 p.m. at a sold-out stadium so the hopes are that the rain predicted for late Saturday will hold off until after the game. I know a few people in town who are either going or attempting to go to the game, and that includes track announcer Gabe Prewitt, who told me he had been hoping for a 7 p.m. kickoff so he could at least catch a few minutes of tailgate time.

I had dinner last night at The Ketch with Howard and Jessica Okusko and Jack Gray Jr. It was nice to break bread with everybody, but especially Jack as he’s a native Kentuckian who I adore and don’t spend enough time with. I first met Jack in the early 2000s when he campaigned Delmartha, who started in three consecutive Breeders Crowns, finishing third, second and sixth.

It ended up being another early night for this scribe, so I was raring to go this morning. A bit of construction and an accident on Limestone slowed my trip to The Red Mile a few minutes, but once I arrived I again headed straight to the breakfast table, where again Cindy and Pete Solverson were serving bagels, donuts and coffee.

Another table was set up alongside and that belonged to Wickliffe Veterinary Pharmacy, which I learned from Grace and Britney, is located on Georgetown Road near Red State BBQ. Grace and Britney told me they’d be back at The Red Mile on Kentucky Futurity Day and will be involved in the hat contest that afternoon. Grace handed me a pen, which was nice, but then she asked if I could figure out how to open it. It took me a second but I found the sweet spot and both Grace and Britney were impressed.

Gordon Waterstone, behind his old desk, in the Red Mile judges’ office. 

I then made a beeline to the judges’ office so I could see my old desk, the one I sat at at The Horseman for 23 years. When the magazine closed in late January some of our furniture was donated to The Red Mile, and that included my desk, which I had come to be very attached to. My chair went along as well, but it wasn’t still behind the desk. Instead, I found it in an adjacent room.

Shannon, who works in the licensing office for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, was the only person in the office so I asked if she would take a photo of me with my old friend, and she was kind enough to do so. Thank you Shannon as the photo kind of makes me look presidential, doesn’t it? I really, really miss sitting at that desk, too bad it was too bulky for me to take home now that I am working out of a home office. By the way, working at home after leaving The Red Mile is already driving my cat, Willow, crazy as she easily picked up the scent of all the dogs I’ve come across on my wanderings.

I walked trackside and Tony Alagna was heading to the track, so that reminded me that I had received a text message from his mother, Donna Lee, asking if I could give Tony her apologies for forgetting to send good wishes on National Son’s Day. Mission accomplished, and I hope Tony now forgives his mother.

Nifty Norman was coming off the track so I tagged along behind and at his barn I told him I was really hoping that his undefeated 2-year-old filly trotter Venerable, who last Saturday won the Mohawk Million at Woodbine Mohawk Park, would be racing here. I read elsewhere that Nifty said he decided against bringing Venerable to Lexington in lieu of waiting for the Breeders Crown later next month at The Meadowlands.

It will be interesting to see how things shake out next month for Venerable and the pacing mare Lyons Sentinel, who have seemed to put themselves front and center in voting for Horse of the Year. The top-ranked Lyons Sentinel is racing this Saturday at Hollywood Dayton and she will have to continue to win to stay ahead of second-place Venerable in the weekly Hambletonian Society/Breeders Crown poll. If Venerable does go on to Horse of the Year honors she will be the fifth 2-year-old to do so and the first since the undefeated 2-year-old filly pacer JK She’salady in 2014.

Speaking of JK She’salady, I learned sad news this morning of the passing of Steve Katz, who along with brothers Ronald and Alan owned Jk She’salady and other standouts as 3 Brothers Stables.

I also learned sad news yesterday afternoon that Betty Stewart, the mother of trainer Bob Stewart and Hunterton Farm’s Steve Stewart, as well as John Stewart, who is currently working on the track crew at The Red Mile, passed away yesterday morning. I saw Bob this morning and he told me his mother turned 100 on July 1. He said small services will be held next Tuesday (Oct. 5).

I also had a chance to speak to Carter Pinske but I was really looking to find his wife, Makenna. I wanted to get the scoop on Makenna’s training for Sunday’s Dash For Cash when she teams up with Andy McCarthy, but Carter said Makenna hadn’t arrived yet. He also told me that today was the 6-month birthday of their son, Callum John.

In my mind I was giving Makenna a bit of an edge in the Dash For Cash, but then I stopped to talk to Nancy Takter, who is teaming up with Dexter Dunn. Nancy told me she’s been in training a while now for this contest, and that she was on her high school’s track team and set eight track records on her way to being named first team All-County. So Nancy seems good, but will Dex slow her down?

George Ducharme walked by so we stopped to chat a few minutes. I told George I saw him at the Kentuckiana party Tuesday night and at The Red Mile yesterday morning, but hadn’t had a chance to greet him. As I did the Okuskos yesterday, I congratulated George on his pair of Massachusetts Sires Stakes winners last weekend at Plainridge.

I went to check on Domenico Cecere, trainer for Lindy Farms, and we talked a few minutes about his 2-year-old Chapter Seven colt Branded By Lindy, who starts from post five on Friday’s opener in race four, a $71,000 division of the Bluegrass. Branded By Lindy finished second in his career debut and then made a break in the first leg of the Kentucky Sires Stakes Championship Series. Domenico then dropped Branded By Lindy to the Commonwealth Series and the trotter responded with four consecutive open-lengths victories, including a career-best 1:53 effort in the $50,000 final last time out on Sept. 19 after starting from the outside post 10.

“When we got him down here we put him in the higher class, but after the break we decided to drop him down to get it more easy on him. It looks like it has been working,” Domenico told me. “I’m very happy with where we are right now. I don’t regret moving him down as there is a lot of racing left this season. His confidence is looking like it’s back. He has a lot of speed, and in his last race, I was very impressed with how he did it. He sat in and when it was time to go, he went.”

I began to head out but first stopped to talk to Andy Miller for a few minutes. But I realized I didn’t want to have Julie get on him for slacking off, so I wandered off. I took a quick look at who was sitting at the Deck of Dreams — I bet Kim Dressler, my friend from Edmonton, Alberta, who won last year’s naming contest for the deck, was thrilled to see the photo in yesterday’s Backstretch — and it was the usual suspects. I took a long look down toward the finish line and I saw a truck with a couple of workers putting a bunch of fresh flowers in place in the winner’s circle.

Don’t forget, racing Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. Monday night is the Round Barn fundraiser party, with tickets available at Fennells, which is adjacent to The Red Mile and the famed Round Barn, also known as The Stable of Memories. The Lexington Selected Yearling Sale gets underway Tuesday night at Fasig-Tipton, with the Wednesday session getting started at 3 p.m. following a cocktail hour in the Kentucky Room at 2 p.m. Thursday’s sale also starts at 3 p.m., with Friday and Saturday night back to a nighttime post of 7 p.m.

With my minor traffic woes this morning I had to take a slightly different route, but that led me past a pair of gas stations that displayed signs of $2.89 a gallon. Most of the others are hovering still between $2.96 and $3.05. I took a quick look a few years farther back than I did yesterday and in 2013 the price of a gallon of gas during The Red Mile Grand Circuit meet was in the $3.30 range.

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