Getting “Social” in Lexington

Getting “Social” in Lexington

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Most of y’all know that I’m a born Kentuckian. I like to say that I was inoculated at birth with a love of horses and bourbon. I think that may be a requisite vaccination for all newborns in the Commonwealth, at least it appears that way. All I can tell you is that I have loved horses as long as I can remember, and acquiring a taste for brown, corn liquor came mighty easy.

Every year for my birthday, if at all possible, I sweet-talk my dear husband into a trip to the Bluegrass. That’s not a difficult task as he spent many, many summers in the state visiting his grandmother. Some of his happiest times were spent in my birth-state.

Earlier this year, we had visited and completed the Bourbon Trail (which I will write about in an upcoming blog), so this time it was totally about visiting horses, eating and drinking excellent food and bourbon, and visiting Wallins Creek (where Jim spent his summers) to take photos and gather information for his upcoming model train layout. (Can you see that there will be many different posts on all kinds of subjects in the offing?)

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Sunset in the Bluegrass

Our base of operations was Lexington. I never tire of Lexington. The area around Lexington is some of the most beautiful country anywhere in the world. Yes, I may be more than a bit biased, but I have been lucky to travel quite a bit and this is where I choose to come as often as humanly possible. Lexington is surrounded by farms housing the finest thoroughbred horses in the world and the very best distilleries are within a very short drive.

We arrived on my birthday, so we had made dinner reservations at Tonys of Lexington. We had lots of time before our reservation, so we wanted to enjoy a bourbon (or two) in a local bourbon bar. We’d heard about Bluegrass Tavern (with their 450 bourbons), and decided that we’d join the locals and see what 450 different bourbons even looked like. We arrived around 4:30 p.m., but they were inexplicably closed. Hmmm! What to do? Then we turned around and found Parlay Social on the corner right behind us. We decided to go in and cool off and see if they could fill the bourbon bill. (August is more than a little warm in Kentucky.)

“Social” is a great name for this place. We were greeted and made to feel right at home by the cutest bartender. Her name is Kristin, and she’s as nice, social, and informative as she is sweet. We had landed in just the exact right place to try out some bourbons that are, quite frankly, impossible to get in Michigan bars or restaurants.

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Kristin – Bartender Extraordinaire – Parlay Social (Check the bottle in foreground!)

Kristin handed us a list of all the options available and it just about made my head swim. There weren’t 450 listed, but there were enough fine options that we didn’t feel as though we missed a thing. They had options to try one or two ounces of some of the best and most sought-after bourbons in the world. Prices (as you can see) were anywhere from $5 all the way up to $112 for one single ounce of liquor. Extravagant? Darn tootin’! It was my birthday, though, so we decided to taste some of them. We shared, so each ounce became half-ounces each. (Wouldn’t want y’all to think we overdid it or anything!)

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Side #1 – Parlay Social Bourbon List

Our favorites were Eagle Rare 17-year and Pappy Van Winkle 15-year. I have to say, that if I had to choose one bourbon to drink (and cost was no factor) it would be the Pappy 15-year. It was, without a doubt, the best, most palatable, smoothest sipping bourbon I’ve ever had. Lord knows if the 20- and 23-year are any better, because we sure don’t. One day, I plan to save up so I can find out; but the leap between the 10-year (Old RIP Van Winkle) and the 15-year (Pappy Van Winkle) was like jumping to light speed in the Millennium Falcon.

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Side #2 – Parlay Social Bourbon List

As we were tasting some of these beautiful, brown liquors, the shift manager, Oliver, came out to see how we were doing. Again, we were made to feel right at home. Both he and Kristin gave us some suggestions as to places to visit in Lexington. When we told them we had reservations at Tonys, they both nodded and told us we would really enjoy our meals. In a later post, I’ll tell you more about Tonys and the wonderful dinner we enjoyed.

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Oliver – Shift Manager at Parlay Social

We actually went back to Parlay Social a couple of afternoons later to tell them what a wonderful meal we’d had, and to try out a couple more bourbons. It was like visiting with old friends. Funny, I know that they get all kinds of visitors and regulars on a daily basis, but we were remembered. That goes a very long way in making one feel welcome.

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Back bar at Parlay Social – Check out just SOME of the Bourbons

It’s a given that we will be back to Lexington in the very near future. It’s also a given that we will be visiting Parlay Social again, too.

 

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THAT Time of Year

If you’re reading this in email or on Facebook, click on the title! It will take you directly to the blog (an easier viewing page.) If you’re already in my blog, WELCOME! (One more hint: If you click on any of the photos in the blog, they should open up in a browser window so you can get a better look!)

The Great Zenyatta and her 2013 Colt Photo by Alys Emson/Lane’s End

The Great Zenyatta and her 2013 Colt
Photo by Alys Emson/Lane’s End

This is the time of year that I have always loved the most. Sure, I love seeing the world start to turn green again (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) after a long winter. This was a particularly cold and snowy winter. That’s not what I’m referring to, however. What really gets my juices going is that this is the time of year that the new baby thoroughbreds start arriving. It’s also the time of year when those lucky, very few who own superiorly-talented, 3-year-old thoroughbreds can almost see themselves holding the Kentucky Derby trophy. It is a season of hope. As the first Saturday in May gets closer and closer, dreams get bigger and bigger.

Churchill Downs Photo from kentuckytourism.com

Churchill Downs
Photo from kentuckytourism.com

I’ve been there. No, we certainly never owned a Kentucky Derby winner, but we have owned and bred thoroughbreds. I know the anticipation of every new baby. With every glance, you wonder, “Are you the one?” Numbers are certainly not in your favor – you realize this – as there are approximately 30,000 new thoroughbred foals born in the United States every year. The likelihood that one in your pasture will be the next Derby winner is even lessened in that excellent candidates are also born all around the world. With transportation today (something I also know a little about), a thoroughbred foaled anywhere can be entered in the Kentucky Derby as long as they are a bona-fide three-year-old. It doesn’t stop you from dreaming, though. The next “big” horse has to come from somewhere. Why not yours? Sure, the lions’ share of the eventual Derby winners come from older-line, established farms and families, but not all. If there’s one thing I learned in the horse business, it’s that there are no guarantees; well, other than that you will spend quite a lot of money and that it will bring you the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

 

Let me tell you a little about our foray into the world of thoroughbreds.

Nashua - The Kentucky Horse

Nashua – The Kentucky Horse

Swaps - The California "Invader"

Of course, I was one of those horse-crazy little girls who never outgrew that “stage.” There are members of my family who will swear that I was vaccinated with the horse-racing bug when I was born in Kentucky. That may be true. Some of my earliest memories involve horses. When I was just a little baby, my parents put me into a basket on the back of a big, black horse. They’ve always said I couldn’t possibly remember that, but I do. I also remember trying to come up with names for contests run by a tobacco company in the 1950s to “name the thoroughbred and win it”. My dad dutifully wrote down the names I liked and sent them in. The first Derby winner that I have a memory of was Swaps. I was very, very little (almost 2), but my parents always watched the Derby. It seems surreal to me that I have any memory of that other than my parents being astounded that a “California horse” could beat the best from the Bluegrass. Years later, I actually got to “meet” Nashua, the horse that everyone expected to win. The next year was a big one for Florida (where I grew up)! Needles from Ocala won. Our first broodmare was actually purchased from one of Needles’ owners. I’m getting ahead of myself!

Needles - Winner of the 1956 Kentucky Derby Photo from: thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com

Needles – Winner of the 1956 Kentucky Derby
Photo from: thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com

All my childhood, I asked for horses for Christmas and birthdays. My dad wouldn’t relent because he said that the upkeep would be too expensive. I never understood, but bided my time and took riding lessons every week. Later in life, I owned an off-the-track thoroughbred many years after his racing career. That didn’t end well (he was badly injured in a freak pasture accident and had to be euthanized.) Perhaps I should have taken that as an omen, but I never stopped loving horses – especially the thoroughbred.

 

Our breeding and racing business started innocently enough. We had been to Kentucky on a vacation. During that time, we had visited Claiborne farm and I actually got to meet, rub, and generally fawn all over Secretariat. I’m going to have a post coming up solely about the great, big, red horse.

Secretariat at Claiborne Farm

Secretariat at Claiborne Farm

Not long after that, Jim had a coworker who owned thoroughbreds out west. He “said” he’d done okay breeding and racing them and that it was a lot of fun. In hindsight, it is almost funny to remember that he had a mare he wanted to sell. We lived in Georgia at the time. Georgia did not then, and still does not, have pari-mutuel racing. There are, however, some very beautiful horse farms there, and there was racing right over the border in Alabama.

Mark Yother - Dear Friend and Mentor

Mark Yother – Dear Friend and Mentor

We met a wonderful man who had a horse farm (thoroughbreds and appendix quarter horses). He had been around racing (both flat and steeplechase) for many years. We had determined that, if we were to own a mare, we would like to keep her with him. We trusted him to give us good care and, mostly, great advice. Mark Yother was the consummate gentleman and horseman. I’ve talked about Mark, at length, in a post I published this time last year.

 

Mark went with us to take a look at the mare that Jim’s coworker had for sale. We had already enlisted the services of a local equine veterinarian who told us that the mare was “clean,” and that she should be able to get in-foal (pregnant). He never mentioned anything out of the norm as far as the mare was concerned. Mark took a good look at her, walked her around a little, and came back to our truck. He told us she was dead lame. No wonder the fella wanted to sell her. She probably could have been able to carry a foal, but why buy a lame horse when there were horses to be purchased that had better bloodlines, already in-foal, and perfectly sound.

Keeneland Sales - Lexington, Kentucky Photo from Keeneland.com

Keeneland Sales – Lexington, Kentucky
Photo from Keeneland.com

That was the first, but certainly not the last, bit of great advice we got. In retrospect, it’s a wonder we continued on with the idea of getting into the thoroughbred business. We were thoroughly bitten by the bug. We immediately ordered catalogs for upcoming sales in Lexington. We really didn’t think our pocketbook would purchase a mare from those catalogs, but we wanted to start educating ourselves on the bloodlines we liked and learn how the sales work. In the late 1980s, many top farms were dispersing their breeding stock. We saw some of the most famous mares of the day go through the sales ring. It was at the breeding stock sales in Lexington that we saw the great Lady’s Secret (Secretariat’s gorgeous, amazing, gray daughter) and Sacahuista. We also determined that Kentucky was not going to be the place where we would be able to purchase an in-foal mare that fit the pedigree profile we had determined we were looking for in a price range that we could afford.

Lady's Secret Photo by the incomparable Barbara Livingston

Lady’s Secret
Photo by the incomparable Barbara Livingston

Up Next: Going to the Ocala Sales

 

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