Saturday, October 4, 2003

Keeneland back to its roots for Founders Day

By Murray Evans
The Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Tommy Johns Jr. provided outfits for a lot of extras when parts of the movie "Seabiscuit" were filmed last year at Keeneland Race Course.

So when the vintage-clothes store owner heard of the track's plans for the opening day of its fall meeting, he was ready. Johns won a retro-wear contest sponsored by the track on Friday in hopes of taking advantage of buzz surrounding "Seabiscuit," which was released in July.

"We'd never miss an opportunity to dress up and show off," Johns said.

Keeneland President Nick Nicholson said it seemed natural for the track to try to ride the coattails of "Seabiscuit," which was set in the 1930s. Keeneland opened in October 1936, so the track decided to try and take fans back in time on opening day.

"I guess 'Seabiscuit' put us in the mood and made us a little nostalgic, looking back on those days," Nicholson said.

Music from the era - both live and taped - could be heard around the facility. Songs like "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "When the Saints Go Marching In" echoed through the grandstands.

Green-and-white bunting was hung from the grandstands, and most Keeneland employees - from the president to concession-stand workers - dressed in 1930s-style outfits. Four equine artists peddled various renderings of Seabiscuit outside the track's gift shop.

Even the Keeneland flag was different. Keeneland's flag is green with yellow letters these days, but flying under the state flag on Friday was a replica of the original Keeneland flag - orange with black letters. It's believed those were Keeneland's original colors because Hal Price Headley, the first president of the Keeneland Association, attended Princeton University, whose athletic teams also wear orange and black.

"We couldn't find (an old flag) that wasn't tattered and worn out, so even though it's supposed to be an old flag, it's actually a brand-new flag," Nicholson said. "This is the first day it's ever flown."

I Two Step Too, one of the horses that portrayed Seabiscuit in the movie, was paraded through the paddock, onto the track and into the winners' circle. His jockey, Kevin Hirstius, wore replica silks in the colors of the farm of Charles Howard, Seabiscuit's owner. I Two Step Too now lives at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

"This is a unique set of circumstances, for sure," said John Nicholson, the Horse Park's executive director. "This is something we were happy to do.

"It's a good thing the horse can act. That's made his life so much easier," he said.

Fans who wore period attire received free admission on Friday. Johns won the male contest, while Lori Goggans of Danville won the female contest.

Three employees from Palmer Engineering in Winchester won the group category, and the trio - Wendy Harper, Michael Schirmacher and Jennifer Morris - said their boss didn't know they had called themselves "The Palmer Family" when they entered the contest.

"It will be interesting to see his reaction," Morris said.

The track drew 15,263 fans on Friday, compared with 10,631 on the opening day of the 2002 fall meeting.

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Hughes 13, Jacobs 2
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Keeneland back to its roots for Founders Day

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