Although I’ve not been immersed in the Thoroughbred breed, my respect is longstanding. All my life I’ve had a peripheral pulse on the ‘big races’ and identified from afar while remaining eternally curious for more knowledge.
Fast forward to the fall of 2018, I had the opportunity to travel with my dear friend Hazel Bennett to the blue grass hills of Kentucky. Now Hazel has been long immersed in the Thoroughbred industry, so travelling with this seasoned gal, I knew would be more than ideal. Timing our sojourn with the Keenland Fall Sales was part of the roster – watching world class horses sell at auction for millions of dollars on a daily basis was something I won’t soon forget. Nor will I forget the widely embraced Thoroughbred culture embraced at every turn in and around the Lexington area. It is an all encompassing horse lovers mecca, to which I know I will return one day.
In the best way possible, our week long experience turned into what felt like ‘The Amazing Race’. Aligned with the daily sales at Keenland are many a farm tour for Thoroughbred breeders and aficionados alike. To which Hazel and I capitalized on with our best effort. Each early day found began with me curbside, our Starbucks coffee in hand. While Miss Hazels perfectly timed chariot retrieved me , we sped off into the bluegrass hills on yet another equine themed adventure. Maps & GPS in tow, we were capably pointed to multiple Thoroughbred breeding farm tours. It seemed we couldn’t reach each one fast enough, all within relatively close proximity to the Lexington hub. Quite frankly, I was in horse heaven. And quickly falling in love with the deep sense of pride and rich Thoroughbred history at every turn. Generations of people and fine equine athletes preserved and promoted throughout a proud and rooted lifestyle, I now had nothing but growing appreciation for this fine breed.
Now it can be tricky travelling with someone for the first time. However I knew our trip was going to be widely successful on both accounts when early in our daily adventures I asked my fearless tour guide, “how many farms are we going to today Hazel”? And she replied with unbridled enthusiasm while her eyes gently dilated, “lets try to go to more than we did yesterday!” We were a matched set of equine enthusiasts!
At days end we would reconvene for happy hour and dinner, recapping the highlights of the days adventures and planning the next amazing race! I was quite simply, in heaven, all the while, not forgetting my secret goal of hoping to see the 2018 Triple Crown winner, Justify. It was during the latter part of the week, we turned off that busy highway and into another world. The world of Ashford Stud, home to some of the best and most exciting young sires in the Thoroughbred industry. A merke cloudy day provided an ambiance giving this grand establishment even more of a European feel, featured in stone fences and life size bronzes of Thoroughbred greats. With camera in tow, we processioned to the barns where the undefeated Justify had recently joined the roster of stallions upon his retirement. After seeing a number of outstanding stallions, the day warmed and clouds parted. I waited with baited breath as the big red colt was unveiled under the emerging sun. I couldn’t use my words as I was torn between tears and trying to photograph one of the greatest horses on the planet.
The sun bounced off Justifys gleaning coat, and as he turned his head quietly while putting his ears forward he was preserved through my tear stained camera lens. I knew I had captured a traditional yet stately reference of this great horse. My trip was complete.
Time and prior commitments don’t always allow these truly inspirational moments to translate themselves immediately back at the studio. However, immortalizing Justify was a priority for me as an artist and I wanted to do a painting representing my inaugural trip to Kentucky.
In a nutshell, I now look at Justifys portrait fondly, as a part of my introduction to the all encompassing Thoroughbred industry. My dear friend Hazel generously shared her time, knowledge, friends, passion and wisdom for this incredible breed with me. AND she gleefully answered on the upside of a thousand questions daily during our Amazing Race of 2018, Kentucky Chapter. Thank you Hazel for taking me under your wing and introducing me to the depths of my new love for the Thoroughbred breed. And especially for introducing me to JUSTIFY.
A great read on Justify’s CANADIAN breeders & their deep insight into the Thoroughbred industry in the mating champions: