It’s like witnessing the Northern Light’s while sitting in the southern hemisphere. Or experiencing the perfect day, followed by a spectacular sunset. Like the most amazing vacation, only to find out that it’s fully paid for.
It just doesn’t happen.
But it is happening this weekend. The stars are aligning. There is a horse in not only both the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby, but also an additional graded stakes race on the Derby Undercard. All for one farm. All connected by the kindest of human beings. That is happening. This weekend.
I was hired as the yearling manager at Hinkle Farms in June of 2010. I was wet behind the ears and fairly green to this industry that I now thrive on. I had worked a total of 1.5 yearling prep seasons for another farm before being hired, but Tom Hinkle and his sales director Ben Kessinger saw something in me. Something I didn’t even see in myself, and they took a chance on a young and hyper 24 year old and hired me. Five months and one great sales season later, and I was promoted to assistant manager of the entire farm.
For the following three years, I did my damnedest to manage that farm to the best of my capabilities. Late nights foaling, early mornings mucking, and long days prepping. Afternoons fueled solely by Red Bull and mornings where I sweated out exhaustion with each shovel into the spreader. But I loved it. Every. Single. Moment. Of it.
We had some great horses during that time. Firehouse Red. Mad Flatter. Caroline Thomas. The list goes on. But we never had the trifecta that is about to happen this weekend. And after only a few years, I left the farm and went back to graduate school. I missed the greatness that they are about to experience. The triumvirate of Weep No More, Divisidero, and Nyquist. Three amazing horses, all running on the biggest weekend of the year for this business.
One of them is looking to defend his undefeated title. Another is looking to honor the legacy of her mother. And the third, is just trying to lay his own path. And only one thing ties them all together – Hinkle Farms.
First there will be Weep No More. This filly who shocked the world when she found a second, and third, and fourth gear in the G1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. A filly that I have never ran a hand over, or led to and from a field. But a filly that was produced by a mare that I hold dear. A mare that I watched deliver her first foal into this world. A mare that I know loves cookies more than peppermints. A mare that craves attention and adoration. A mare that I left in September of 2012 heavily in foal to Mineshaft…the Mineshaft that was soon to be known as Weep No More.
With Divisidero, the connection is greater. A stronger affinity, a tighter bond. I was there the day that Hinkle Farms secured the purchase of Madame du Lac, the dam of Divisidero. I high-fived the owner’s son immediately after landing the final bid. I watched with excitement as we loaded her up for home. And I stared on intensely as she delivered the stunning bay colt into this world. I wiped the phlegm from his nostrils and sat him sternal. I held his haunches as he drank his first sip of liquid gold. And I watched from the gate of the paddock as he ran his first gallop.
And then there is Nyquist. The favorite for the Kentucky Derby. The undefeated 2 year old champion and Breeder’s Cup Juvenile winner. Hinkle might not have bred Nyquist – having secured his dam the same year that Nyquist followed her through the ring as a weanling. But they hold a special interest in this race, acknowledging that a win on Saturday will secure Seeking Gabrielle (his mom) a special spot in history. They are so invested, and yet I am not. In fact, I have never even seen Nyquist in person. I have never shaken the hand of Doug O’Neill, or led this majestic creature into a stall.
But I will scream for him for the same reason that I will scream for the rest: a love of the horse.
This love of the glistening muscles that lie over the top line of the fittest of the fit. The legs that carry them over any surface, any speed. The owner who has invested so much time, blood, sweat, and tears into the creature streaking past him. The breeder who has planned and detailed every aspect of this horses life.
And then there is me, the (retired) farm manager watching from home. Who has such an infinitesimal connection to these horses. Who has not even laid eyes on two, or rested a hand on the third, in years. Who has no financial investment in the strides that they take, or the order in which they cross the wire. But who will watch the television in my living room with tears streaming down my face as each of them gallop out with speed. Strong. Safe.
Because there is one reason, and one reason only that I have faith in this industry. And it is because of people like Tom and Henry Hinkle, and now Tom’s daughter Anne Archer. Families who have been invested in this industry for decades. For generations. Who survive the hard times, hoping and praying for a weekend like this. This magical 24 hours that so few will ever get to experience. To have it all come full circle and find your horses, and your connections, running with the best of the best. The odd’s were stacked against them, but they somehow overcame.
This family who open their farms, their homes, and their families to the young and struggling groom, and gives her a leg up in this tough world.
So more importantly than cheering for Weep No More, or Divisidero, or Nyquist, I am cheering for Hinkle. For the good guy. For the small breeder that deserves it. For the family run farm who does whats right for their horses. The farm that breeds a select few and puts the best care, nutrition, medicine, and love into them. Letting me experience nearness with greatness.
So run on Weep No More. Run on Divisidero. Run on Nyquist. But more importantly, run on Hinkle Farms.
Lucky are you, lucky are we….to have anything and everything to do with this beautiful industry of horses and hard work and hope.
I have an OTTB, a grandson of Affirmed, in my back pasture. Retired because of chips in his front ankles, he now keeps me company and watches over two miniature horses and dairy goats and their tiny kids. Not a “fancy” job as a retiree, but important none the less. And satisfying to him, the horse we call “Easy”.