Experience the Kentucky Horse Park's Hall of Champions
The Hall of Champions Barn at the Kentucky Horse Park gives visitors the same feelings they would get at a history museum.
There is an aura of great importance around the barn that stretches to all of its surrounding paddocks. It almost feels like a place in which you must be only silent and observant. Visitors are first struck by the beautiful memorials to the park’s former residents Cigar and John Henry.
John Henry’s memorial shows him standing strong and proud. “A Lasting Legend” is inscribed just above the years of his birth and his death. Even those who do not know of his storied career can feel his greatness.
Cigar is buried a few feet away, just outside the paddock in which he spent his final years. His memorial shows him in flight, soaring just as he did in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Cigar was so special to the Kentucky Horse Park and to horse racing as a whole. Fans still leave flowers on his grave.
It is easy to get caught up in all of the graves and memorials that line the path to the barn. It is striking to see how many champions rest there. Benches along the path beckon visitors to have a seat; they are the perfect spot to rest and reflect on how incredible these horses really are.
Despite the comfort of the shaded path and the nice benches, visitors rarely sit there long. It is hard to stay put when the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner, Go For Gin, is sticking his head out of his stall window. People flock towards him for a chance to stroke his nose or give him a peppermint. The old stallion has been at the Kentucky Horse Park for almost nine years and finds the whole ordeal very much routine.
The inside of the barn is beautiful. Plaques mounted on the wall describe the great feats of the park’s residents. Visitors crowd around stall doors, all taking their turn at seeing Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Funny Cide, two-time Breeders’ Cup winner Da Hoss, and Triple Crown winning Standardbred Western Dreamer. Some visitors coo to the horses inside the stall, others stare silently in awe.
The park’s employees happily answer questions about the horses they care for. Their love for the horses is so clear; there’s a smile on their face and a sparkle in their eyes. They are undoubtedly proud and honored to have a job caring for these horses.
At the stroke of 1:15 p.m., everyone inside the Hall of Champions Barn makes their way to the presentation ring. They all find themselves a seat around the circle and wait anxiously for it all to start. A presenter comes in and begins to tell the history of some of the park’s horses as the horses themselves are groomed and readied for their time in the spotlight.
Out steps Go For Gin, who many of the visitors had met just minutes before. He looks marvelous for 29. Fans scramble to ready their cellphones and cameras to get a photo of the living legend. All the while, the presenter continues to tell the tale of Go For Gin. She and the stallion work together to entertain the crowd; her with her voice and he by sticking out his tongue.
Next is Western Dreamer. Those who do not know much about harness racing are given a thorough education on the sport’s Triple Crown. Visitors watch the video replays of his races as the gelding proudly strides out into the ring, accompanied by Gene Carter. Carter himself was a man of horse racing history -- he was the last person to sit upon the back of the great Man o’ War.
Finally, Bob Baffert’s great Point Given makes his way into the ring. He stands before a huge banner welcoming his arrival to the park; he is one of the park’s newest residents. He acts as if he was in the winners’ circle after an important race, lifting his head high and striking a pose.
After three horses come into the ring, the presentation is ended and the visitors make their way back towards the barn. Many stop to get feed peppermints and get photos with Point Given, others avoid the crowd and make their way back towards the rest of the park.
The Hall of Champions is a place full of living history. Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, and Quarter Horses all call this barn home. They spend their days romping around the park’s paddocks and getting attention from all of their visitors. It is a lavish life for these distinguished horses, a retirement truly fit for a king.
All fans of horses and horse racing must make the Hall of Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park a place to visit. It is truly one of the great treasures of horse country; a place of honor, prestige, and power. It feels like walking into a history museum, because that is exactly what it is.
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