By Travis Gettys
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FLORENCE - A white gym shoe made its way toward the front of Turfway Park's grandstand Tuesday, passed from hand to hand by the crowd until a woman standing in the concourse saw it.
"Keep your shoes on," said teacher Amy Smith. "No one wants to smell your stinky feet."
The crowd of seventh-graders from Gray Middle School laughed and passed the shoe back to its blushing owner.
About 170 students visited the racetrack Tuesday after reading Seabiscuit: An American Legend, the true story of a racehorse that became a cultural icon in the 1930s.
"We want them to know what goes on at a racetrack, that it's not all just about gambling," Smith said. "There's a lot of hard work that goes into it."
School officials gave parents and students the option of not going because of the racetrack's association with gambling, but teacher Mike Woods said none objected.
"It's amazing," Woods said. "Even the kids that have horses were excited about coming."
As the horses went through their morning exercises, students pressed against the rail and milled about. One boy snapped a photograph with a disposable camera.
"It's pretty neat," said student Michael Rutherford. "I'm wondering how old you have to be to be a jockey or a stable hand."
Rutherford, who has only watched horse racing on television, said he received horseback riding lessons as a Christmas gift.
"I'm actually going today," he said.
After watching the horses trot and gallop around the track, students toured the barns and buildings and spoke with jockey Bill Troilo and track historian Jim Claypool.
Claypool explained that when Turfway Park was built, the grandstand was designed to face the opposite direction, but builders realized the sun would shine in the eyes of the horses and the riders.
The sun problem was corrected, he said, but that created a problem with the lake in the track's infield.
"If you look very closely at the lake, you'll see it is in the shape of the state of Kentucky," Claypool said, "but it's upside-down."
Students said they were impressed and surprised Tuesday.
"I think it's awesome," said Becky Valente, who has ridden a horse before with her cousin. "The horses are a lot smaller (than in the movies) because the cameras are up close."
Jacob Bradford said the visit made the reading assignment "real."
"It's a lot better than being in class," he said.
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