Why Own a Racehorse? It’s a Reason to Get Up Early on a Chilly Fall Day

(Seek N Justice waited to go to the Churchill Downs’ track early on Thursday morning for a little “breeze” / Photo by Gene McLean)

(Seek N Justice came off the Churchill Downs’ track this summer / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

I’ll be the first to tell you that if I see more than one 8 o’clock in a day’s time, it’s not going to be a good day. Not for me, or, perhaps, somebody else. And, all my 8 o’clocks normally have a “p.m.” connected to them.

Sorry. That’s just the way this old body rolls.

But this morning, I beat the alarm clock and the roosters up. It was 5:45 — as in a.m. — and I was on the move. And, for a man my age, it wasn’t even bathroom related.

Amazing, some would say. For me, though, there is only one good reason to get up that early. And, that is because you get the call from your horse trainer and friend with news that your 2-year-old colt is going to breeze at Churchill Downs in the early morning hours.


Up at 5:45 a.m. without even an alarm blaring.

Out the door by 6 a.m. with teeth and locks brushed.

Car revved and on the move at 6:05 a.m.

Pull in the backside at Churchill Downs at 6:35 a.m.

Binoculars and coat in place.

Boots on the ground — check.

Optimism? Not in check.

(Seek N Justice gallops on the rail this summer / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

That’s what owning a racehorse will do for you. It’s gets you up early. It gets you excited. It gets your body and heart moving. It gets you looking ahead. It gets you looking forward.

As soon as I strolled over to the barn of trainer Buff Bradley, my great friend and trainer, his assistant, Chelsea, came over and asked if I wanted to see my colt. It was like asking a toddler if he wanted a Jolly Rancher.

We immediately went over to the stall, and the young man stuck his head over the webbing and greeted me with a gentle nose rub to the chest. It was as if he was saying, “Where have you been lately? Missed you buddy.”

When the colt laid his head over on my shoulder, and we exchanged a “moment,” I knew exactly why I own a horse. Truthfully, I knew exactly why I had gotten up at the forsaken hour of 5:45 a.m.  And, I knew right then and there why people fall in love with this great sport.

You see, this colt — who now goes by the name of Seek N Justice — is the first foal out of a mare that I owned and raced with a group of great friends. When that mare, Diamond Seeker, busted a knee so badly that she couldn’t race any more, I took her home and decided I wanted to keep her and give her a shot at another career — as a broodmare.

So, three years ago, I bred Diamond Seeker to Caleb’s Posse after chatting with my great friend Pam Michul, who was advising clients on breeding at Three Chimney’s Farm at the time. Two years ago, Diamond Seeker had this colt. A beautiful baby who looked just like his momma.

And, nearly every month since then, I have gone to visit him.

Saw him as a baby. And loved him.

Saw him last year as a yearling, and loved him.

Sent him to be broken to a saddle and rider this summer, and loved him.

Most of all, I just loved him.

This morning, I went to see him at Churchill Downs. It was like going to see your kid at college. Fun.

Earlier this Summer, Seek N Justice had gotten a couple of months on the track. But when his shins barked a bit, both Buff and I decided it was time for a little R&R at the farm.

A couple of weeks ago, Seek N Justice got to go back to school. And today, he got his first “breeze” since his return — getting to take off a little bit and run for about a furlong. So, without being asked twice, I jumped at the chance to go check the colt out this morning.

Again, it was like going to see your kid at college. Fun.

(Seek N Justice this cool a.m. / Photo by Gene McLean)

The colt galloped a loop around the oval, and then, heading into the backstretch, he got to stretch his legs right in front of me. And, he pinned his ears, revved his engine and fired. With all his might, he hung right there with his workmate. Buff stuck his head in the clocker’s stand and said, “I got them in :12 and change.” And, I didn’t know whose heart was pumping the most. The colt’s or mine.

Did I say it was like going to see your kid at college? It was FUN.

It is a long, long, long way until Seek N Justice is ready to make his first appearance at the racetrack in the afternoon, when the world can watch him finally do what he was born to do — run. I know — by now and by experience — that so many things can happen between now and then. So many things that can disappoint your mind and hurt your heart. So many troubles. So many sidebars and sidetracks. So much to do and overcome.

But I also know what you feel like when that day finally does come. Butterflies. Visions of grandeur. Dreams dancing. Sleepless night. Anxious morning.

It is like going to see your kid at college.

It is fun.

And, I can’t wait until next week.

(See you next week Seek / Photo by Gene McLean)




The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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