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AHP Tour in the Bluegrass


Statue of Secretariat

Two more steel horse sculptures by Nigel Fennell
By Michele Harn

This year the American Horse Publications (AHP) annual conference was held in the “heart of the bluegrass” and horse mecca: Lexington, Kentucky on May 12-14, 2022. Titled “Back to the Bluegrass,” the first day offered a “Bluegrass State of Mind Tour of Lexington” that encompassed five iconic places in the area: Keeneland Race Course, Kentucky Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center (KESMARC), Coolmore America’s Ashford Stud, Hallway Feeds, and Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital.  On Thursday May 12, we boarded the coach at 7 a.m. Eastern time and headed for breakfast at Keeneland Race Course.

Keeneland is truly a park-like setting, with its beautifully landscaped grounds, and is completely open to the public, as its founders intended it to be “a gathering place for all.” The Track Kitchen is well-known for its Southern style breakfast, and it did not disappoint. Our tour guides loved sharing the track’s rich history and importance in Thoroughbred racing.

Several AHP members recounted stories of their own horses having raced or gone through the sales barn at Keeneland. When we got off the van after breakfast, we watched the orchestrated morning exercise of horses breezing on the track. The gift shop was a strong magnet for most of the group, finding special treasures to take home.

Soon we were whisked away to the Kentucky Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center (KESMARC), a state-of-the-art facility that serves a wide variety of equine athletes throughout the South. We were asked not to photograph any horses at the center due to their strict confidentiality policy. (A policy we would also encounter at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital). The center proudly boasts of being an innovator in the use of hyperbaric chamber therapy for horses, which is still a rare treatment modality for horses.

Next was Coolmore America’s Ashford Stud, home to a who’s-who list of Thoroughbred stallions, including American Pharaoh, Justify, Tiz The Law and 11 others. One after another, these stallions were paraded before us like handsome celebrities on a red carpet. The farm looked like an English manor estate with its perfectly manicured lawns, pastures, and flower beds. Notably missing? Flies! Not a one to be found, which is undoubtedly due to the immaculately clean barns and fields. The Stud runs on a very predictable daily schedule, such that the stallions know when it’s their turn in the breeding shed or time for pasture turnout.

Our empty stomachs eagerly boarded the coach for Hallway Feeds where, appropriately, we were fed our box lunches. The family-run icon of the Lexington horse world has a fully automated feed mixing and bagging facility that is clean enough to eat in. I marveled at the efficiency of their operation and the far flung places where they ship feed so that Lexington horses can have fresh Hallway Feeds when they travel.

Our last stop was Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, famous around the world for their innovative veterinary care of horses. The surgery suites each have a large picture window for tour groups to observe the surgical operation. After surgery, a recovery team helps the horses slowly and carefully awaken from anesthesia. The years of experience and knowledge are evident in the calm, efficient way the horses are cared for. The vast campus includes separate areas for horses, depending on their diagnosis and treatment needed.

 It was a whirlwind day, given that each of these places could have easily been a half-day tour. As a first time attendee at an AHP conference, I had been told the tour is a must-do. It certainly surpassed my expectations by miles!

We finished the day with an evening Welcome Reception, which preceded the Keynote Address by Donna Brothers, award-winning sports analyst, commentator, author, and former jockey. You most recently saw her on NBC Sports interviewing horse owners before the Preakness and interviewing the winning jockey, Jose Ortiz.

Statue of Secretariat
Another AHP feature was the World Premier unveiling of the only known full size steel statue of Secretariat ridden by Ron Turcotte, created by farrier and equine sculptor Nigel Fennell. It was constructed of plasma laser-cut individual mosaics of Secretariat, as seen in the close-up of the tail.

Nigel Fennell worked as a farrier for 31 years. Three years ago Fennell turned to building life-size horse sculptures.
Fennell’s latest sculpture was unveiled at the Griffin Gate Marriott Hotel at the American Horse Publications Conference: a life-size sculpture of the legendary racehorse, Secretariat, and jockey Ron Turcotte, entitled “God’s Boy 31 – 2.24”.
The sculpture pays homage to the record-breaking and awe-inspiring performance by Secretariat to seal his 1973 Triple Crown win and cement his legacy as a racing legend.

In the 1973 Belmont Stakes, Secretariat literally ran away from the competition, winning the longest leg of the Triple Crown by a distance of 31 lengths in a record 2.24 seconds.

Engraved along the sculpture are iconic lines broadcasted during Secretariat’s Belmont race on either side of the horses head.

“Secretariat is blazing along.”
“He is moving like a tremendous machine!”

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