After selling my house last year, I had ideas of moving to Kentucky. I had travelled there to tour a few houses with great enthusiasm for a new life in a new state. My idea was to give everything up for a much more simple life, spending days at the track and maybe picking up a small job somewhere that was geared to the sport that I love - Horse Racing.
Well, things didn't go as planned and in hindsight, all for the better. Who could have foreseen a Covid pandemic which would shut down the entire state? I would have been stuck in a house, far from family, alone, with no track to go to. Misery. Someday, I will make that dream a reality but now is not the time. But the Bluegrass State is one that I can't stay away from and decided it was time to jump back in that car and take that 11 hour drive. Honor Code was waiting.
The route from the Philadelphia area of Pennsylvania to Danville Kentucky is gorgeous. Once you get through that long stretch of congested highway in Pennsylvania, it becomes a paradise. This time of year, with the trees changing into their autumn bloom, miles upon miles of open highway without a car in sight, is the perfect setting for the trip ahead. If you ever decide to take the road trip, October is the perfect month in more ways than one.
Lanes End was the target and the timing of the trip revolved around securing tickets to that Farm. Claiborne happened to be quite open with their dates and I had a free day so I booked myself a ticket there as well. The afterthought which proved to be the highlight, far surpassing Lanes End in every way. Yes, it was Claiborne Farm which stole the show. If you ever decide to make the trip, it is Claiborne Farm which must be on your itinerary. By far, the experience at Claiborne far surpassed my expectations.
I had arrived 20 minutes early to the beginning of the Claiborne Tour, alone and a bit intimidated at first. There was a visitor's center, but not a soul in sight. I stood outside for a bit, taking in the peacefulness and the beauty of the landscape before finally venturing in. There was a gift shop area and on the large television was the replay of Orb's Kentucky Derby race. My initial thought, then and there, was that this was going to be something special. From the first minute walking in, I was truly at home. Here I was, watching the winner of the 2013 Kentucky Derby run his race and I knew he was standing somewhere close by in one of those barns. Suffice it to say that hidden beneath my rather purgatorial Covid mask was a grin from ear to ear.
Still a little early and still waiting for the rest of the group to assemble, the next race came on the TV. It was Algorithms' maiden race. I almost fainted. I had no idea that Algorithms was barned at Claiborne. I barely read a thing about this farm, as I was only really looking to get to Lanes End this trip. Algorithms was here and my heart almost burst.
The tour guide was in the room and I turned to him and said, "Do you think we can get a glimpse of him today?"
"Absolutely!" This guy had no idea that he had just made my entire day with that one word!
My knees went weak. The others in the room basically had blank stares. It was obvious this group was clueless. We were about to stand in front of one of the best 2 year olds of 2011 and I was overcome with joy. The others were making lunch plans.
We were set to go and we walked directly to the first barn.
I had no idea who was in this barn and within minutes, I stood frozen in complete awe:
Right out of the gate stood Orb. I was allowed to pet him and talk to him. I could not believe that here he stood in all of his grandeur and beauty. The superstar. And directly across from him was Runhappy in Secretariat's and Bold Ruler's old barn.
There he is. Peeking out of his stall to check me out.
Sorry about missing the opportunity to take full photos of Runhappy and any photos of Catholic Boy. I was in a state of complete euphoria as I greeted them both and the camera was absent in my mind. These two guys were breathtaking, especially Catholic Boy. He was a surprise to me because I didn't do my homework before coming here.
And I'm glad I didn't.
Each introduction came as a shock and with complete gratitude and awe. The only horse that I knew, prior to coming here, that was standing at Claiborne was War Front. Each and every one of the others was a pure gift and a magnificent surprise in my mind. And the tour had only just begun.
And then I saw the Gold Plate. Algorithms. Oh My God! The Tour Guide handed me a mint and said, "Go ahead, feed him!"
He was a doll. I gave him a mint and then he head-butted me for more. I loved every second of it.
Yes, that's me wiping a tear. A nice lady grabbed a photo for me. That horse choked me up. Algorithms was destined to be one of the best who ever ran but the injury stole his racing career. And there he was, in all his glory, allowing me to feed him and wanting more!
That is sheer happiness! Me and Algorithms!
And the tour continued...
He was very regal and he knew he was the King of the Barn.
And then to my surprise, the Tour Guide took us to BLAME, the horse who beat Zenyatta in the 2010 Breeders Cup Classic. He said that Blame actually had death threats thrown at him after that race and that he was hated by many for "stealing" Zenyatta's unbeaten record. He then said directly to BLAME, " What do you say to all of those mean people after you beat the great Zenyatta?" ... I grabbed the shot...
Along the way, I saw Lea, First Samurai, Mastery and Demarchelier. The tour continued to the Breeding shed. The area where so many giants were conceived, including the great Whirlaway. Onward past Secretariat's paddock and then to the Graveyard, which held some of the greatest champions of all time.
It was a day I will never forget. Claiborne Farm is a must see and to be 100% honest, was by far, heads above the day spent at Lanes End. There was no comparison. Both were beautiful in their own way but the visitor experience was vastly different. I did not want to leave Claiborne, and in stark contrast, I was ready to get into my car after the first 15 minutes at Lane's End.
Entering Lanes End was magical. Breathtaking. Stunningly beautiful. Upon entering the front door, I looked to my left and I saw his head poking out. It was immediate. There was Honor Code, about 20 feet from me, standing in his barn and the tour had not even begun yet. I wanted to run over there but I also didn't want to get booted before it even began. I figured, all in due time. This was the reason I drove 11 hours and I was going to be patient. If this was anything like Claiborne, I figured I was going to have ample time in front of that boy soon enough. (Big Mistake!)
We assembled in a gorgeous room which was supposed to be some sort of a "gift store" - there were about 10 things in there and not one had to do with Honor Code or even A.P. Indy. Disappointing. I did grab something at Claiborne to commemorate the day - but that wasn't going to happen here at Lanes End. That was fine, all I wanted was time in front of the three big guys - Honor Code, Honor A.P. and Candy Ride. After that 11 hour drive, my wait was finally drawing to a close but little did I know, it would be over in the blink of an eye.
We walked outside and was told to stand on the grass. Within 5 minutes of being on the farm, out walked Liam's Map...
And two minutes later, he was walked straight back into the barn. I turned around and the big guy Honor Code was standing right in front of me.
And two minutes later, he was gone. Then came Quality Road and Candy Ride. Two Minutes later, they were gone as well.
Within a span of about 8 minutes, it was over. But we still had an hour and a half to go and the anticipation of seeing these giants of racing was gone in an instant. The star attractions were over in a flash and I was actually ready to leave, then and there. But of course I couldn't. The rest of the tour was a shuttle which ran the open green grass of the farm, vacant paddocks, A.P. Indy statue, the cemetery and a look at some yearlings. The remaining hour felt like it was never going to end. Some may enjoy this type of tour but I was there for the stars and I still didn't get a glimpse of Honor A.P. - YET!
And more open grass, barns from afar and a swift drive passed Game Winner...
Then more driving and more vacant paddocks and up to see a couple of the babies...
I won't go as far to say that it was a waste of time or that it was so boring that I would never return, but I will say that it was not anywhere close to what I had thought it would be. After seeing the little guys we had to drive again back through the beautiful farm land with not a sire in sight. I was more than ready to leave. I felt disappointed in not seeing Honor A.P. but somehow, through divine intervention, just minutes before fleeing for my car, I stood at the door leading to the parking area and decided to take one last peek and a photo of Honor Code's face peering out 20 feet down the barn on the left.
I stood at the door just looking at him for the last time even though he was so far away and I could only see that blaze of his. I opened the door to leave and happened to glance down towards the right and there he was...
If I had left just 2 minutes before I would have never seen him. They were taking him outside for a walk. So I quickly ran out the front and down the other end of the barn.
I needed to get closer without getting in trouble!
And we just stood there. Staring at each other. Those 10 stolen minutes made that long drive worth every mile.
I always thought Honor Code was the most magnificent creature on earth, until he made his son.
Honor A.P is the most beautiful horse I have ever seen.