Backstretch With Gordon: Season 15 Premier
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Before I embark on the new season of Backstretch With Gordon, I always glance back at the previous year's columns. Here is how the first Backstretch started in 2016, and I will leave it nearly intact today as there doesn't seem to be much need for change: "I (state your name) do solemnly swear that for the next two weeks through the Grand Circuit meet at The Red Mile that I will not discuss politics, national anthem etiquette or global warming, and instead focus my attention on the excitement that the sport's top horses, drivers, trainers, owners will bring to Lexington. I hereby also resolve to fully enjoy the meet—whether it be by attending the races, heading to the yearling sale, or watching from afar via computer or TV. I also pledge to faithfully read Backstretch With Gordon daily where I guarantee I will learn plenty of things, including the price of a gallon of gas in Lexington."
Welcome to Season 15 of Backstretch with Gordon, sponsored by Steve and Cindy Stewart's Hunterton Farms. Hard to believe this will be the 15th year of me trolling the backstretch at The Red Mile, and hard to believe nobody runs off when they see me approaching. It's also hard to believe that so many things have changed since we last got together in the Bluegrass.
I've had two big personal losses in the past year, the first being the death last November of Ken Marshall, my mentor and great friend from my Michigan days. Then in March the racing world suffered a great loss when announcer Sam McKee, another longtime friend from Michigan, passed away. While I always seemed to follow in Sam's footsteps in Michigan, he followed me to Kentucky in 2001 when he was tabbed to announce the races during the Grand Circuit meet. Even before the meet got underway I would receive morning texts from Sam asking if I had any scoops for him.
Yes, it's strange that no texts have come this year. Just as it was strange following the death a few years ago of John Cashman and not having him greet me nearly every morning on the backstretch. By the way, The Red Mile will honor Sam during Sunday afternoon's card with a special video tribute. Sam's wife, Chris, will be here, as will their daughters Meagan, Lindsey and Melissa.
Another big change for me was a great one: Being inducted into the Communicators Hall of Fame in Goshen, although I still think for some unknown reason the Russians hacked the election to get me enough votes. Boss Kathy always "grading" my stories in advance also helped immensely as she was able to fix my mistakes, both factual and grammatical. As I've continuously stated, the honor primarily came because of everybody taking a few minutes from a busy schedule to talk to me.
Anyways, after a summer that turned cool over the past few weeks here in Lexington, it has baked for more than a week now. Today's high is 88, and it'll be close to that on Wednesday. The temperature is supposed to start dipping on Thursday, and highs over the weekend will reach only the low 70s. Remember, the meet opens on Thursday night, and continues on Friday and Saturday nights, so it might be a bit nippy during those cards. But then we shift to afternoon action on Sunday.
After fighting more traffic than expected this morning, I arrived at The Red Mile at 8:30. The first person I saw was locally-based trainer Jack Gray Jr., coming off the track and yelling over to the judges that he was scratching his starter from the morning qualifiers. I congratulated Jackie again on his two wins on Kentucky Sires Stakes Super Night.
Jimmy Takter was coming off the track so walked back to his barn with him. I asked Jimmy if he was planning on racing his great 3-year-old filly Ariana G against the colts in the Kentucky Futurity, and he said he was waiting to see what happened this weekend on the track. Ariana G will race with the fillies in the Bluegrass on Sunday afternoon and Jimmy will gauge her performance as well as how the boys do in their Bluegrass splits.
One other change from last year is the recent closing of Logan's Roadhouse on Broadway near The Red Mile. I saw DeWayne Minor, a former Michigander I've known forever, and asked what he's been doing for dinner as he was a frequent diner at Logan's, and he said he's been scrambling. I know the horsemen who stay at Campbell House like to just walk across the street for a Logan's meal, but obviously that won't be happening now. But there is no shortage of options in this town, but it will take a few minutes longer to get there. Plenty of restaurants downtown and a whole new mix opened up at the corner of Nicholasville and Man O' War roads. I'll try to put a list together with some recommendations.
I saw Mickey Burke so I walked over and congratulated him on the big Jug victory with Filibuster Hanover. Others who came by me included Tony Alagna, Erv Miller and Curby Stillings. I went over to the "Knowledge Tree" expecting to see Nick Salvi, as I know that's where he gleans his intelligence, but all I found there was an empty bench and an unopened bottle of water.
I stopped in to see the judges and Rich Williams and Mike Davis were there. They both told me how good my story was in the latest issue of The Horseman about judges and how they make the calls in the booth. You can pick up the magazine at Fennell's, or if you see me or Boss Kathy at the track, ask and we'll get you a copy. Trainer Staffan Lind stopped in to check on his drivers for Thursday's card, so I quickly walked over to say hello to the Kentucky Racing Commission's licensing person Alicia Ritter, who introduced me to her co-worker Carol.
Finally, in the aftermath of Harvey and then Irma, gas prices went up 60 cents in two days. $2.09 on Monday and $2.69 on Wednesday. But they've started to creep back down, and while the stations near The Red Mile were at $2.47 this morning, some sites near the track are in the $2.30s.