Kentucky Horse Park is a bucket list must

by Bob Heyden

My 12 days in Kentucky at Red Mile, the huge sale, and lots going on. If you ever follow a similar path going forward, add in one more destination, the Kentucky Horse Park. I did and am very glad I did

I had never been there before. The Kentucky Horse Park, sure I’d heard a lot, and seen brochures and heard great reviews, but being there really was a horse of a different color.

They have everything that you can think of, and more. There is an abundance of activity; moving parts abound. Remember looking at your grandfather’s watch as a kid for the very first time; wondering and looking on in astonishment as to what all that ticking and motion was all about? Same here. A common purpose rules the day; the horse is king and we are all there to make their lives better. Noticed and appreciated. Oh, and spread the word, but you won’t need any further coaxing on that once your three-to-four hours are complete.

I won’t mention the staff members that helped out immensely by name because a) there are so many of them and b) the horse is the star of the show, the mane attraction. It’s their world for sure and we are permitted some time in it.

When you walk into the Hall of Champions for the first time, all of a sudden, The Wizard of Oz is in color. You are suddenly transplanted to the movie theatre with four Oscar winners in front of you, with an inescapable feeling this is just for you.

Here are the stars and the facts:

Marion Marauder — He is the “kid” in there; the newest addition. His infertility is actually our gain. A son of Muscle Hill and grandson of Muscles Yankee. Now just 10, the 2016 Trotting Triple Crown is the only Hambletonian winner to make it to the Kentucky Horse Park. He made $3.39 million in his racing career from 2015-2020. He’s still feeling his way around, you know, the big fish little pond theory, but this one in reverse.

Won The West — His stall is right across from Marion Marauder. He was part of the richest ever stablemates upon retirement in the summer of 2012 with his $3,939,836 and Foiled Again’s $6 million plus at the time, vaulted this duo past $10 million. His 2009 1:47 Breeders Crown win was the fastest Crown ever until Bulldog Hanover ended the fun in 2022 (1:46.4). He’s now 19. The second youngest here.

Mr Muscleman — He is 23 years old and acts 8. He loves his neck rubs and is the richest son of Muscles Yankee coming from that star’s very first crop. He raced from 2002-2008 and was a nose shy in the Elitlopp. He won over $1 million at 3 and 5 (each season), division champ both times. His career $3,582,823 bankroll makes him the richest trotter here.

Western Dreamer — How many 29-year-old geldings can you call a ladies’ man? He’s the only gelding in either sport to capture a Triple Crown (1997), he made $1,812,176 lifetime competing from 1996-2000. He’s from the first crop of super sire Western Hanover. He loves people, and with a they’re-here-to see-me attitude, hates other horses. He gives hugs and is anything but camera shy. When is the last time you had your picture taken with a horse, or any animal, who wanted more? He’s a rock star and the line at the end of the daily presentations to see/pet/chat with him are wall to wall.

The Hall of Champions is a snapshot through time and Marty McFly had nothing on me this day. I didn’t think about this until well after I had left. These four superstars actually represent four different timeframes. Western Dreamer was around for the five years at the end of the 20th century, then 2000 was the year Mr Muscleman was foaled. He competed until 2008, the same year Won The West was kicking his career into high gear for Team Burke. Then Marion Marauder came around in 2015 and is just getting started at Kentucky Horse Park with a ringside seat.

Respect for the horse — all breeds — abound at the Park. There were times I thought I had been transported back to the 1940s and backstage for an MGM musical with so many people in costume. Bustling activity. Shows and exhibits are going on. Caring, goodness, respect, and most of all, reverence, exists everywhere. Concessionaires only deal in comfort food. Nobody is forgotten and the horse really is supreme.

The NY Yankees many years ago started Old Timers Day. Going to the Kentucky Horse Park certainly has some of that feel. “Here’s Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle!” Take your 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th high school reunion combined with a touch of Old Timers Day and that’s the feeling of the Hall of Champions. Yesterday, today and most certainly tomorrow. That very horse nibbling on your sweater was known worldwide. The one over there who just gave you a playful shove? Thank goodness. He was a star from Day 1. That guy wants another massage and isn’t particular about who gives it. They have just invited you into their living rooms and are not showing you your Samsonites. You really are welcomed by one and all.

In conclusion, the Hall of Champions is a collective showcase of the biggest stars in the sport’s history; the $13 million combined tells us that. But today they are united, and uniters, making any and all of us who traveled hours/days to get there totally forget their travel woes. The royalty of the sport meets every day Joe/Josephine and they are happy to see us. Yes, a peppermint or carrot will further the love in. All these horses want you there; want you to ask questions; want to be petted and coddled. All that stuff about Triple Crowns/earnings/Horse of the Year titles can wait. My three plus hours there was kind of like going to the movie theatre and suddenly realize Michael Jordan is sitting right next to you and offering his popcorn.