Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Main Event

Eventing is a three-pronged competition combining dressage, cross country jumping and stadium jumping, and the Rolex World Championships is that sport's pinnacle. Horse and rider have to be very fit and durable to make it through all three phases, ridden on consecutive days, and only the best qualify to be here.

Dressage is an impressive display of control and communication from rider to horse. But evidently it's not the kind of impressive that made me reach for my camera. Cross country is where the real action is, and seeing these jumps in person gave me a new appreciation for what I've seen on TV. The jumps are huge, and they get even bigger than these! One note about these cross country pictures, I'm using a small digital camera with a big delay, so there is a lot of timing and luck in trying to get a horse while jumping!

This girl, I think her name is Becky Holder (my wife will correct me if I'm wrong) did great and came in second...

...behind Phillip Dutton, shown here riding the championship winning stadium phase. He was one of only two riders who completed this course without knocking down any rails.

Equine Greatness

The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington is quite an impressive place. The location of the Rolex Eventing World Championships (more on that later), the Park also has a very nice museum and a barn with some of the most accomplished leaders of equine sport alive today.

This is a statue depicting Secretariat dancing to the winner's circle at Churchill Downs on May 5, 1973, Ron Turcotte aboard and groom Eddie Sweat alongside.

More Secretariat treasures could be found inside the museum.

In the Living Legends category, few horses are bigger than horseracing's richest thoroughbred, Cigar. I snapped more pictures of him, but I like this one best. Content in retirement, living in luxury and seemingly still race-fit, Cigar is seen here waiting for the next parade of champions.

While driving through the scenic Kentucky countryside in spring, you will see countless miles of paddock fence bordering countless acres of rich, green pasture. In those pastures you will see countless horses, and most of them will have foals nearby. The hills of Kentucky, mild in climate and rich in tradition, are factories not only for fine bourbon, but for fast, fast horses. I think about the astonishing number of horses that come out of this amazing place, year after year after year, to enthusiasts and trainers and investors and competitors and breeders. I think of what a small number of these horses possess truly special potential, and what a smaller number still reach that potential.

And then the smaller number of those that isn't ruined along the way by injury or attitude or plain bad luck. Throw out the ones who had everything going for them all along but stumbled out of the gate on a Saturday in May, or clipped heels with a lesser horse in front or didn't like the conditions of the track. Ponder all of that and the Greatest of the Great, Cigar, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, well they just get larger than life. These horses, past and present, this place, even on a warm spring day, just gives me chills.


The taste of Woodford Reserve samples still in our mouths, we traveled a few minutes back toward town to Keeneland race track for the penultimate day of the spring meet there. Under a bright blue sky and warm weather we walked around the beautiful grounds and took surprisingly few pictures. But it was a fun day, despite coming out on the losing end of the wagering equation.

Although I've only been to a few different tracks, two of them - Churchill Downs and Pimlico - are home to the first two jewels of the Triple Crown. And Keeneland is by far the nicest track I've ever been to. (I've seen Saratoga from outside the gates and that seems nice, I'll have to check that out some August and compare, but we both loved Keeneland.)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Woodford Reserve

The Bourbon Trail was definitely on my list while visiting the Lexington area of Kentucky, and we picked the distillery of Woodford Reserve to tour.

Bourbon making is kind of loud and I couldn't hear the tour guide very well. As a result, much of what I now think I know about making bourbon is likely to be inaccurate at best. So, tell you what. Go to their web site if you want to learn how to make it, I'll just show you some pictures.

This is some of the bourbon-ey goodness fermenting. This tank was bubbling away like crazy!

In an empty tank you can see the cooling pipes. I think they said it has to stay between 70 and 80 degrees for this step.

It was hard to get good photos inside the buildings because they did not allow any flash photography. Cell phones must be turned off and all the lighting is wired in such a way that there is no way anything can spark. The entire process is quite flammable, as you can imagine. But these three copper, uh, thingamajigs, are the only ones in use anywhere in Kentucky. This is where the distilling takes place.

Then some other stuff happens and they put the bourbon, which is now clear, into barrels. The barrels are then sent out the side of the building and along a track where they are stored in this really, really cool building.

It holds 5,000 barrels, and this is where it ages. About seven years. Over the course of this storage, each barrel is sampled several times. And if after seven years it's not ready, they don't bottle it until it is!

In this building something special happens. Part of the contents of the barrels evaporates, and they call that portion the Angel's Share. The barrels positioned higher up evaporate more because it's warmer up there, but they all give up a little to the Angels, and the room is thick with the aroma of it.

These barrels are ready for bottling and distribution!

Kentucky Roadtrip

We loaded up the FJ Cruiser last week and headed west for a little roadtrip. The next few posts will show a little of what we saw, including perfect weather, premium bourbon making, world class equine sports and more.

Passing within twelve miles of where I went to college, it really wouldn't have been right to extend my streak of Never Having Returned. So we stopped in Buckhannon, home of the Bobcats, and drove around a little. I showed my wife how deep that flood was back in, what, '84 or so? Submerged stop signs in town. I was actually surprised that I could remember where everything was. Even the places I visited very seldomly, like the library.

Some things never change though.

Luckily, the football team isn't one of them. They've gotten a lot better since I was there.

This is the Chi Phi house. Probably the location along my life's path with the highest disparity between time spent and time remembered. That was a long time ago, though. I'm sure the kids these days have long since found more constructive and healthy ways to pass the time.

Soon we were entering beautiful eastern Kentucky. Stay tuned for more...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Car washin' the fun way...

This weekend some friends and I came across this ford, and I just had to drive through it at an unsafe speed with my friend standing in the middle of the road at the far end with a camera. That's what friends are for, right?

Spring at Shenandoah National Park

I met some friends the other day to fish for native brook trout in the Shenandoah National Park. I had never been where we were going, White Oak Canyon. But it was near my friend's farm in Madison County (peach orchard blooming above) so we met there.

It's so beautiful out here, everywhere I parked looked like an FJ Cruiser commercial.

On to the park, this is Ed working a scenic pool with no fish in it.

I caught only one brookie. But he was beautiful, and those who have fished this water told me that, at about 11 inches or so, it was quite a large one. Another thing he was, was slippery. I dropped him before I could take a picture. But initially he didn't go far so I stuck the camera under the surface and snapped a picture. You can see the top of my fish at the bottom of this photo. The only reason I bother posting it is that fish were very hard to come by that day, and this is the only photographic evidence that we were even in the same general area as fish.

Even harder than finding the brook trout in the last picture, is finding my friend Douglas in this one. But he is in there!

After a lot of hiking and not much success fishing, we decided that we had earned the right to reward ourselves with the three B's: icy cold Beers and some fishing in Douglas' pond for easy Bass and Bluegill. They were indeed plentiful and enjoyable, and topped off a great Spring day.