Red Rabbit Racing's 7 yr old gelding General Charley, competed for the first time at lovely Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky on April 16th in a $50,00 claiming race in a field of 7 on the Polytrack. Charley was sent off by the local punters as the 3rd choice at 5-1. Aboard Charley again, and for the last time, was jockey James Graham. More on that below.
Partners Jean, Rick and Peggy made the pilgrimmage down to Keeneland arriving on the 15th. Partner Jeff was unable to break off from work so he watched at the OTB with Family Patriarch Robert Arthur Johnson. Arriving in Lexington, we had dinner at a local Italian Ristorante called Joe Bologna's followed by meeting on the morrow with RRR southern trainer Neil Pessin - where he allowed us to see Charley early on Raceday.
Charley looked ready and after only a couple carrots we took our leave of the barn area and went up to watch the remaining morning workouts at the main & training track. Partner Jean got us liscensed and legal to run at the racing office. Then Jean & Peggy returned back to the hotel to dress in all their Raceday Finery pictured left.
Rick stayed at the track and explored all the splendor of this great old race track. It was my 1st time at Keeneland and it is nothing short of magnificent. They only race there 6 weeks a year and each and every day of their meet is an event. This was Charley's 1st ever race there as well.
Neil had set us up with Box seats overlooking Charley's finish line and the view from there was awesome. I had found a young man named Nick in the crowd to take the home video that you can see from the link below. His mother was kind enough to take the race pictures as well. Charley's race was the 4th race so immediately after the 3rd, we scampered down to the paddock to watch Charley get saddled.
The Keeneland paddock is different than most tracks. The horses are saddled not in stalls - but out in the open under your own saddling Tree! Charley was very professional as he was saddled, not lathered or bothered. Neil affixed his tongue tie and groom Damian kept him loose by walking him round our tree. After you saddle you then parade over to the viewing ring where the jockey's mount up before they then go under the tunnel out to the track.
Jockey James Graham met us in the Viewing Ring resplendent in his Red Rabbit Racing silks that he was now wearing for the 5th time. He greeted us by declaring 'Let's go get paid!'. Neil gave him a few instructions about taking the lead if no one wanted it - but if someone else wanted the lead - let him have it and stalk him to save Charley and set up a big run down the lane. With nary another word Neil then threw James in the saddle and out the tunnel they went onto the track.
We scampered back up to our box and nervously awaited the imminent start to the race. When the gate sprang open, James hustled Charley immediately to the lead. He didn't wait to see if anyone else wanted the lead and then with Charley in front James set murderous fractions of 23.7 and 46.8 which were even
When Neil and I saw the quarter and half fractions we knew we were toast. Remember we were running a mile and 1/16th. Ideally we would love fractions of 25 and 50. As they came to the head of the stretch Charley was already short striding and backing up. With an eighth of a mile to go Charley was dead last and stayed there. As they crossed the finish line partner Peggy exploded with a couple F#%& Bombs as she lambasted jockey Graham for setting an absurd pace - AGAIN.
Rick, Jean & Neil were stunned silent by what we just saw, but partner Peg was not - she was pissed and let all know it. We were all dissappointed as we did not even contemplate that last place would be an option. Neil left the box quickly to meet Charley as they trotted back after the cooldown and find out from James his take on what happened.
James told Neil that Charley couldn't really get hold of the track. He had only run on Polytrack once before at Arlington Park where Charley won by 8 lengths. Apparently Keeneland's Poly is different than Arlington's. James had nothing to say about the pace. Interestingly though if you look at the 1st picture at the top this page you see Charley crossing the finish line last with James looking at the scoreboard where the race times are posted in realtime. I wonder if he thought he had went too fast and was checking it out? Hmmm.
The partners went back to the barn where Charley had already been bathed and was being walked by groom Damian. Charley wasn't really blowing hard and the post race scope by the vet showed no bleeding. After Charley was cooled down Peg and Jean took turns hand grazing Charley. He liked that.
We then gave him about 6 pounds of carrots not forgetting the other horses in Neil's barn - especially Gamblers Reward - a horse belonging to RRR good friends Darrell & Sadie Brommer.
Though we were all dissappointed in the result we all still had a great time. That night we went out to dinner with Neil and as a surprise to him belatedly celebrated his 50th birthday complete with a cake we had hauled down from Chicago. We had the cake decorated including a Red Rabbit wishing Neil a Happy Birthday. However the bakery had made a mistake and fashioned a Red Pig on the cake instead of a Red Rabbit. Picture all the way down of Neil with his cake.
On the 17th, we watched 2 races at Keeneland and then started the 7.5 hour drive for home.
Charley comes up to Arlington at the end of the month and will now revert back to northern RRR trainer Chris Block. We thank Neil for all he did for us over the winter and for the many great times we had. A great horsemen and our friend.
Official Track Race Video