By Travis Gettys
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FLORENCE - The threat of rain prompted Turfway Park officials to pound the track flat before the start of Saturday's Lane's End Stakes, but the smooth surface didn't slow Sinister G, who won the $500,000 Kentucky Derby prep race.
Gray, but dry, skies loomed overhead all day until a drenching rain began at the conclusion of the 33rd annual stakes, one of the top races in the nation, sending the crowd to the indoor grandstand.
Brisk winds accompanied seasonable temperatures, with spectators sitting in front of the grandstand in folding chairs as a stiff breeze tugged at the pages of their race forms.
"It's windy out today, but it's not cold," said Myriah Johnson of Cincinnati, attending her first horse race.
Inside the Maker's Mark VIP tent, cigar smoke laced the air as local bigwigs mingled, many wearing top hats with a replica of the dripping wax that seals the distillery's bottles.
Democrat Nick Clooney and Republican Geoff Davis, both vying for Kentucky's Fourth District Congressional seat, exchanged pleasantries at the entrance of the tent and later greeted supporters.
Clooney's son, actor George Clooney, planned to be in town for a pair of fund-raisers, and many people wondered if he would attend the race. However, his plane was scheduled to arrive after the race was over.
"This is a wonderful event," Nick Clooney said. "I've been coming here since it had another name."
The event has been known as the Spiral Stakes, Jim Beam Stakes and GalleryFurniture.com Stakes. It has been sponsored since 2002 by Lane's End, a Woodford County horse farm owned by Wil Farish, President Bush's ambassador to England.
The level of competition at the Lane's End Stakes was impressive, race fans said.
"These are the best horses you see all year at this track," said Tom Brocker of Cincinnati.
Kevin Kleem of Villa Hills received tips via cell phone from his father, Larry Kleem, who was watching a simulcast of the races from a dog track in Sarasota, Fla.
Kleem said he had confidence in his dad's skills. "I might drop $80 but I'm sure I'll win more than that," he said.
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