Posted Wednesday, June 12, 2019
As Gene McLean writes, they're miraculous, and they're ours.
Posted Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Got my fix on Tuesday morning. Got it good.

Woke up at 5:30 a.m. in my cozy Louisville bedroom and hustled to put on my “work clothes.” Blue jeans. Golf shirt. Baseball hat. Boots. Just a tip: Put on the boots after you have the blue jeans pulled high. Easier that way.

Hustled down the stairs, avoiding three dogs and three cats along the way — like a barrel racer in the county fair finals. Hustled to the office to grab my computer and binoculars. Hustled out the door to the car. Hustled out the driveway. And then hustled all the way to Lexington, making the trip to the Thoroughbred Center in about an hour.

If you know anything about me, you know that I can stay up till 5:30 a.m. easier than I can get up at 5:30 a.m. Late nights have always been easier than early mornings. Hustling in the a.m. does not come naturally. Unless it is a midnight bathroom call.

But on this morn, I looked more like Pete Rose motoring around third base and headed to home plate with the winning run than my normal Weeble-Wobble, teeter-totter stroll. My stride resembled Zenyatta in the final furlong. My attitude was more Piglet than Eeyore.

And why not?

After all, I was on my way to the racetrack.

I was on my way to see my newest addition to the racing stable.

(Miss Jacqueline has a perfect “diamond” on her nose. In tribute, perhaps, to her mom, Diamond Seeker / Photo by Gene McLean)

I was headed to see Miss Jacqueline, a fancy 2-year-old filly by Jack Milton and the latest arrival to the barn of trainer Stephen Lyster. I was on my way to see Miss Jacqueline, a filly born to my very own Diamond Seeker — who I had raced and loved. A filly that I had carefully and meticulously chose her breeding and dreamed of foaling. A filly that I had helped raise and watched grow from infant to potential runner over the last two, long years.

I was headed to my Happy Place.

(Miss Jacqueline takes in the sights and sounds of the racetrack / Photo by Gene McLean)

On Tuesday morn, bright and early, I rolled into the Training Center in Lexington; headed to Barn No. 9; and right up to the first stall — the new home room for Miss Jacqueline. The gal arrived here for the first time, oh, about three weeks ago, after spending all of her young life with her primary caregivers at Legacy Springs Farm just a few miles down the road.

The transition has been a bit of a culture shock.

Gone is her comfortable, quiet stall. Gone is the still of the farm life. Quiet bird chatter has been replaced by the signing of barn workers. Fun time outside has given way to work time every morning.

Gone are her human friends that fed her and kept her every day since she was foaled about two years ago. The ones that she knew by the sound of their voices and the patter of their hard boots have been replaced by new friends, who pick her feet and comb her hair. And, most of all, make her behave.

Gone are her horse buddies that she loved to bully and nicker. No more horse play in the field. Replaced by horse work on the track.

Arrived, now, is her new life.

This was the first time I had gotten the chance to see the filly in her digs. This was the first time I had the chance to see her at the racetrack. This was the first day I got to see her get up, eat a little breakfast, and head off to elementary school.

It was just like going to the first school play to watch your own kids perform for the first time in public. Anxiously, you arrive and sit in your seat — wondering if your child knew their lines and the choreography of the songs. Nervously, you await to see if your child can walk in line with the others; stand correctly; listen attentively; and perform accordingly. Excitedly, you look to see if your baby is learning; can do what the other students are doing; is growing.

As soon as I saw her in her stall, Miss Jacqueline looked up from her feed tub and caught my eye. Quickly, she spun around and headed to the stall door. She draped her head over the webbing and snuggled my neck. She smelled my hair, and nibbled on my shoulder.

She seemed happy to see me, for sure.

I was darn happy to see her. Ever since Seek N Justice — Miss Jacqueline’s half brother — was claimed off of us at the Fair Grounds on March 9, I haven’t had a horse at the racetrack, or in training. I haven’t had a buddy to go see at the barns. I haven’t had a friend to go see. I didn’t have my fix. It was withdrawal. And, I didn’t like it.

On Tuesday morn, we both got our fix. There were smiles all around. Especially on my face. And, I think,  even on Miss Jacqueline’s face, too.

(Miss Jacqueline on the inside / Photo by Gene McLean)

A few minutes later, Miss Jacqueline’s groom came to prepare her for her new morning routine. He crawled under the webbing and picked her feet. He rubbed the night sleep from her eyes, and the hay strings from her mane. He wrapped her legs with bandages. And, he carefully positioned her saddle cloth on her back. Then, he wrapped the saddle on and tightened her girth.

All the while, Miss Jacqueline never moved a muscle. She stood still as a church mouse on a Sunday celebration. She looked at me the whole while, as if to say, “Look Daddy. I can be good. I can be really good.”

Dad smiled.

A few minutes later, the groom came to get Miss Jacqueline. It was time for her trip to the track. Just like a young teenager ready for her first prom date, she pranced out of the stall and into the shedrow. Looking like a grownup. All dressed up and nowhere to go.

The rider came and got a leg up. A couple of trips around the barn, and then they popped out into the sunlight. Miss Jacqueline walked the entire runway to the racetrack as if the spotlight was on her. Just on her. Only on her.

Head held high. Hooves clicking light. It was showtime.

Right behind her, watching all the way, was both Stephen and me.

It was just a slow gallop around the training track. One mile. And, then nearly two. The whole time, Miss Jacqueline was inside another 2-year-old filly, who was bigger and stronger and farther along in her studies. The “other” filly acted as her bumper. Her coach. Her partner. Her buddy. And, her mentor. Together, they galloped along.

Nothing to get excited about, in the normal, day-to-day life of being a horse in training. Nothing to get revved up over if you are a horse trainer that has done this with hundreds of horses. Nothing to shout about. Just another day at the office. Just another day of math lessons and art classes. Just another routine.

But for me? And Miss Jacqueline?

It was everything. It was every reason to be excited. It was all the reasons to get revved up and shout. It was so much fun.

For me, to be sure.

For the filly? I want to think so, too.

She seemed so proud to show what she had learned in just a few short weeks. She seemed so proud to show me what she now can do.

She didn’t duck and weave, as she had done previously. She didn’t kick and buck, as she had been used to. She didn’t act scared or frightened by the horses galloping to her outside, and breezing to her inside.

She just galloped along — nice and easy. And — to me and for me — she seemed to smile. Especially when she pulled up. Stood for a stoic second or two to observe the others. And, then slowly made her way back to the barn for a bath and a walk.

She was proud. So was I.

(Miss Jacqueline exits the racetrack / Photo by Gene McLean)

It’s still a long, long, long way to go for Miss Jacqueline. She has many more miles to gallop and lessons to learn. She has to be schooled in the starting gate. She has to be taught how to change leads. She has to go from a jog and a gallop to a breeze. And, after that, from a breeze to a race.

There are many days ahead. There are many lessons to be learned, and challenges to overcome. Such is horse racing, especially with 2-year-olds and youngsters.

I know. I have been here before. Ain’t my first rodeo, as they like to say and write. There will be disappoints and setbacks. There will be tough times and question marks. There will be hopes dashed, and dreams crashed. Such is the life of a horse owner.

But for this day? This one day?

It was all sunshine and rainbows. It was the first day for the school play. And, my damn kid nailed it.

Nailed it.

Can’t wait to be back. Just can’t wait.

And, that’s the reason I own a racehorse. They fix a lot of things. One of them, quite honestly, is me.

Posted Monday, June 03, 2019

On March 21, 2019, The Pressbox first reported that Ellis Park — which was purchased in whole by the Saratoga Casino & Hospitality Group just about a year ago, buying out former partner Ron Geary — was for sale again.

Now, we've learned that another a sale is about to come to fruition.

According to a source, on June 18, 15 days from now, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission may hear and consider the sale of Ellis Park, located in Henderson, Ky., to the Laguna Development Corporation, which is located in Pueblo, N.M., near Albuquerque.

Laguna — which operates the Dancing Eagle Casino in Western New Mexico; the Route 66 Casino Hotel in Albuquerque; and entities known as the 66 Pit Stops and the Route 66 Travel Centers — has been the most persistent and consistent potential buyer of the Ellis Park properties and licenses.

The Dancing Eagle Casino was the company’s first gaming enterprise when opened in 2000. It sits about 22 miles east of Grants, N.M.. That casino operates more than 500 slot machines, video poker machines, keno slots and a full service restaurant that seats more than 160 guests and visitors.

(Dancing Eagle Casino is currently operated by the Laguna Development Corporation / Photo Courtesy of the LDC website)

If the company purchases Ellis Park and gains the final approval of the Kentucky Racing Commission, it will be the first racetrack operation that the company will own and operate. But, according to the company’s website, the corporation is entering an aggressive phase where it is looking to add properties both in New Mexico and other states.

The website’s “Business Development” link includes the following:

“Laguna Development Corporation has recently embarked on an aggressive, focused and innovative strategy to expand and develop the company both within and outside the state of New Mexico. The company recently completed a management restructuring to strengthen the oversight of daily operations while at the same time allowing a veteran team of gaming, food & beverage retail, hospitality and entertainment executives to spend a majority of their time exploring, developing and opening new business ventures. With an excellent credit rating, a solid history of meeting financial objectives and a significant equity investment from the Pueblo of Laguna, LDC is well positioned to grow and expand in the near term while mapping an expansion strategy for the future.”

In addition, the LDC touts its expertise in the gaming industry:

“LDC is currently the third largest tribal gaming enterprise in New Mexico. With operations that include casinos, travel centers, convenience stores, restaurants a grocery store and hotel the company enjoys revenues of more than $200 million annually. The company currently has more than 1,100 employees.”

One of the reasons that Laguna may be interested in Ellis Park — which seems to be a lifetime away from New Mexico — is the fact that the company’s Vice President and Chief Operating Officer is Kevin Greer.

Greer came to LDC from the Belterra Casino Resort in Florence, Ind. Belterra is located just a couple of hours away from Henderson and on the same Ohio River that borders the racetrack to its southwest and a riverboat casino operation in Evansville, Ind.

Saratoga Casino & Hospitality Group — which first purchased a 30 percent minority share in Ellis Park in 2012 — bought the remainder of the track and its assets from Geary last July. The racing commission voted unanimously to approve the sale on July 17, just a couple of weeks into the track’s live Thoroughbred meet last summer.

Ellis Park also owns and operates a simulcast facility and a gaming area that houses Historic Racing Machines. HRM is a pari-mutuel, electronic wagering system that is based on the results of former races, and has become a lucrative addition to the revenue stream at Kentucky Downs, Churchill Downs and a joint operation created by both Red Mile and Keeneland.

Stay tuned. More developments soon.

Posted Tuesday, May 14, 2019
Columnist Gene McLean sticks up for stewards' suspension of jockey Luis Saez.
Posted Wednesday, April 24, 2019
Gene McLean on why he returned Game Winner to No. 1 in his Derby rankings.
Posted Wednesday, April 17, 2019
The Pressbox's Gene McLean is sticking with Roadster atop his rankings.
Posted Wednesday, April 03, 2019
Updating his rankings, Gene McLean lists four horses he's already tossing.
Posted Monday, April 01, 2019
After a bleeding episode, Serengeti Empress resumed training Monday. Oaks-bound?
Posted Thursday, March 28, 2019
The 2-year-olds "are what make you get up in the morning with a smile on your face."
Posted Wednesday, March 27, 2019
It applies to the Derby trail, too. But Gene McLean sees a clear No. 1.
Page 1 of 8

Meet Gene McLean

The Pressbox is your source for news, handicapping and interviews with the industry's biggest stars. Gene McLean is the Founder of The Pressbox and The Louisville Thoroughbred Society. No one in this industry has more talent in reviewing, forecasting and handicapping.

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