Category Archives: Bourbon County Secretariat Festival

Countdown to Secretariat

Trolley Boy at the 2008 Bourbon County Secretariat Fest - today he's the star of Disney's Secretariat movie!

Now that Labor Day is upon us, and the wonderful summer meets at Del Mar and Saratoga are drawing to a close, it is time for this blog to turn its attention to the next big event in racing:

SECRETARIAT the MOVIE!

While the film is scheduled for wide release October 8, the lovely folks at HRTV provided the RTIP with advance screening passes!  My sneak peek at this long-awaited movie will be Sept. 16, ten days away! I can barely contain my excitement, though there is a twinge of sadness as well.  My old friend Jim Gaffney will be there in spirit.

Today I ran across this article about the horses who play Big Red in the movie.  For those who are new to The Infield (or have forgotten), the main actor horse was selected at the First Bourbon County Secretariat Fest in 2008.  That’s Trolley Boy, mentioned in the article.  Also, the horse pictured with the article may be Trolley Boy – he has a similar face shape to the one in the photo.  Check out the full story here, and the photos are in this album here!

HRTV is also sponsoring a drawing for a trip to the Hollywood Premier of the movie, so go here & register.  It’s free!

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Filed under Bourbon County Secretariat Festival, Claiborne Farm, Jim Gaffney, promoting racing, Secretariat, Secretariat movie

In Memoriam: JIM GAFFNEY

Exercise Rider Jim Gaffney aboard SECRETARIAT

Horse racing is unusual among sports in that its athletes cannot speak for themselves.  They show us their heart and courage and speed and talent on the track, but it is up to the humans who care for them to tell their personal stories.  One of the greatest spokesmen a horse ever had left us last week.  Jim Gaffney, exercise rider for Secretariat and one of the best friends of The Infield, passed away Thursday at the age of 75.  Gaffney worked Big Red as well as Riva Ridge, Angle Light, Spanish Riddle and many other champions in his long career on the backside.  He also worked in the NYRA mutuel department until 2000.  To the end, he was a leading voice in the legend of Secretariat.  Gaffney met thousands of people and gave out hundreds of photos of Secretariat to the fans who stood in awe listening to his stories.  It is heartbreaking that he did not get to see the film version of his tale.

I met Jim in April of 2006, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Secretariat bronze at the Kentucky Horse Park.  It was an unusually frigid day and I was waiting inside the lobby for the activities to begin when an energetic, fast-talking older gentleman rushed up to me and my mom and asked if we were sisters!  He asked me if I knew who he was, and I told him any true Secretariat fan would know Jim Gaffney.  He waved his wife Mary over and posed for a picture with my mom & me, then slipped me one of his trademark yellow envelopes with the horses rubber-stamped on it.  Inside was an autographed photo of him astride Secretariat.  He encouraged me to write to him at the email address stamped on the envelope.  Each time he had a free moment, he found me and we talked about Big Red.  He seemed impressed at how much trivia I knew for such a young person, and he quizzed me about races and some of Big Red’s competition.

Shortly after the ribbon-cutting, I wrote to him and thus began a rich correspondence that lasted until just a little while ago.  Along the way, I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with Jim & his wife, Mary, at big races and Secretariat events in Kentucky.  At Breeders’ Cup 2006, I met the rest of Jim’s fan club in the paddock.  At Jim’s first Kentucky Derby in 2007 (he did not go to Secretariat’s; family events prevented it and so Charlie Davis went with Sec to Churchill), he was on the same floor in the clubhouse as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, but after the race he wanted to go to the Cracker Barrel for a celebratory dinner!  In 2008, he once again had a great seat in the clubhouse, but my favorite memory from that year was a trip to Kroger.

Oaks 2008 was a terribly drizzly, rainy day, and so instead of getting Jim out in such weather, I suggested he make a trip to watch the staff make the wreath of roses for the Derby winner.  The store was crowded as the shoppers and curious Derby fans filed past the booth set up near the deli where the satin panels were stretched across two tables and a dozen ladies buzzed over them, stitching in the deep red rose blossoms.  Jim was so delighted watching the scene and impressed by the skillful seamstresses-slash-florists  that he pulled out a few of his yellow envelopes and passed them to the ladies.  He told them who he was and autographed the photos, laughing and sharing his favorite Secretariat memories.  Another shopper overheard and joined the small conversation, and Jim gave her a photo too.  Then a few more people came up, and a few more, and soon the entire store had turned from the roses to the spry gentleman who rode Secretariat!  Jim ran out of envelopes, so my dad rushed to the truck to get some more.  Jim happily signed photos for at least an hour, and the local news filmed a lot of it.  Mary was always supportive of his outgoing nature but that afternoon it seemed even she was surprised at the number of people smitten by Jim’s charisma and love for a horse.

Jim was an honorary Kentucky Colonel and had the official calling cards which he sent out with his yellow envelopes.  He found out about every new book, magazine article and news story about Secretariat and passed along the details to his circle of fans.  He was proud of his relationship with “Nack”, the most famous Big Red biographer, and reminded us that he was “Chapter 10” in the Book.  Many times he’d ask me how I liked the newest merchandise from Secretariat.com, and always said he’d pass along my comments to “Lusky”, the man in charge.  During one Derby excursion, he called up Seattle Slew’s exercise rider, Mike Kennedy, just to tell him how much fun he was having in Louisville, and then he passed the phone to me!  It was pretty cool chatting for a few moments with the guys who galloped Triple Crown winners — at the same time!

I took a photo of the Secretariat bronze that Jim was particularly fond of, and so along with a copy of the photo, I had some notepads made with the image prominently centered at the top.  He loved them and used them in his yellow envelopes to write personal messages to those he sent photos.  The camera was Jim’s best friend and worst enemy, as he took it everywhere and shot rolls and rolls of film, but many times he was so excited about what he was photographing that he moved the camera, resulting in rolls and rolls of blurry snapshots!  Jim also often would instant message me asking for picks at Belmont, and I’d dutifully study the DRF and pull out a few promising names.  He always promised to share the winnings, but sadly there were none ever to report:(

Along the way, I also met many other Secretariat fans who were friends of Jim.  I was able to tour Claiborne with Jim because of Mary McKinley, a fan & horse trainer from Pennsylvania.  I met Ron Turcotte & Penny Tweedy while hanging out with Jim.  And Jim encouraged me to pursue my love of the sport and make a career out of it.

Jim Gaffney was one of an exclusive fraternity of riders who got to sit astride the Greatest Racehorse Who Ever Lived.  But he was willing to share that with all of us, and welcome us into the world of Secretariat.

Thank you, Jim.

Thanks for the memories, Jim!

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Filed under Bourbon County Secretariat Festival, Claiborne Farm, Jim Gaffney, obituary, Secretariat

GAWKED: BOURBON COUNTY SECRETARIAT FESTIVAL 2008

After 35 years, the spirit of Secretariat still gallops strong through the hearts of racing fans, as evidenced by the turnout at the first Bourbon Co. Secretariat Festival last Saturday.  The line for the autograph session with Penny Chenery wrapped around the exhibition building, and tours of Claiborne Farm, where Secretariat lived after his retirement from racing, were full for every scheduled half-hour.  For the Secretariat Look-Alike contest, 19 big, red (and sometimes cosmetically-enhanced) equine tribute artists vied for the $3000 prize.  All this and I didn’t even get a single shot of the famous bourbon!
Penny Tweedy, owner of Secretariat, poses with Mom and me.

Penny Chenery, owner of Secretariat, poses with Mom and me.

 

Wannabe Secretariats line up for the Look-Alike Contest

Wannabe Secretariats line up for the Look-Alike Contest

 

Each contestant was evaluated on many points, including the trademark Big Red Butt

Junk in the trunk: Each contestant was evaluated on many points, including the trademark "Big Red Butt"

Champion Secretariat Tribute Artist, TROLLEY BOY.  The 4 year old thoroughbred stallion was the first contestant to enter the arena and was the only one who needed no painted-on enhancement to his markings.

Champion Secretariat Tribute Artist, TROLLEY BOY. The 4 year old thoroughbred stallion was the first contestant to enter the arena and was the only one who needed no painted-on enhancement to his markings.

 

This pic reminds me of that shot of Sec striding onto the track for the Belmont.

This pic reminds me of that shot of Sec striding onto the track for the Belmont.

Judge Jim Gaffney and Sandra White, founder of the Center for Women in Racing & chairperson for the Secretariat Festival congratulate Trolley Boy.

Judge Jim Gaffney and Sandra White, founder of the Center for Women in Racing & chairperson for the Secretariat Festival congratulate Trolley Boy.

 

Mary McKinley & SHREKRETARIAT

Mary McKinley & SHREKRETARIAT

A super fan of Super Red

A super fan of Super Red

 

Secretariat looks watches over Jim Gaffney and Penny Chenery at the autograph booth.

Secretariat watches over Jim Gaffney and Penny Chenery at the autograph booth.

You could buy this barrel, handpainted by a local Paris artist, in the silent auction.  I wonder if the bourbon is included?

You could buy this barrel, handpainted by a local Paris artist, in the silent auction. I wonder if the bourbon is included?

This booth was brimming with authentic racing memorabilia.  Those are actual saddlecloths worn by such greats as Ginger Punch, Intercontinental and FOrest Danger.  Sadly, I left my Grade-1 saddlecloth money back at home.

This booth was brimming with authentic racing memorabilia. Those are actual saddlecloths worn by such greats as Ginger Punch, Intercontinental and FOrest Danger. Sadly, I left my "Grade-1 saddlecloth" money back at home.

Among the activites during the day were hours of mounted pony club games in the arena.

Among the activites during the day were hours of mounted pony club games in the arena.

No Nerf balls here.  In this game, riders had to spear balloons with sticks.

No Nerf balls here. In this game, riders had to spear balloons with sticks.

This is what 31 Lengths looks like in orange cones.

This is what 31 Lengths looks like in orange cones.

 

Big Reds Babes

Big Red's Babes

I could go on for even more pages, but instead, I’ll just send you to my photobucket album here!

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Filed under Bourbon County Secretariat Festival, Claiborne Farm, Infield Trips, Jim Gaffney, photos, Secretariat