Story & photos by Teresa Genaro

When Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas agreed to train horses for the recently established Churchill Downs Racing Club, he figured that he and the club members would be in it mostly for the fun. He didn’t quite envision that that fun would involve a Grade II stakes race at Saratoga, but Friday afternoon, that’s what they got.

At 12-1 on the morning line and 27-1 at post time, Dial Me, one of two horses in the fully subscribed Club,was the longest shot in the re-scheduled Grade II Adirondack Stakes, but on the day before the race, Lukas had more confidence in his Dialed In filly than the public did.

“I think we’re competitive,” he said. “Obviously you don’t go into a Grade II thinking you’re just going to wipe everybody up, but she’s done well.”

In the Adirondack, the filly was making her first start outside of Kentucky after running fifth in her debut at Churchill Downs and breaking her maiden at Ellis Park in July. She was scheduled to run in the Adirondack last Saturday, but a series of storms cancelled the card, putting off her stakes debut until Friday.

“The delay helped me a little bit,” said Lukas, “because I shipped her up from Churchill and I had one work in her [at Saratoga, before last week’s race]. With the delay, I was able to get another work in her, so that’s a plus.”

It was also a plus for Club member Kim Symonds of Springboro, OH, who was unable to make the trip last week but who was seated in the clubhouse overlooking the track on Friday afternoon.

“The cancellation was disappointing because I was ready to watch her,” said Symonds, “but then I was secretly really happy because I knew I’d be able to come this weekend.”

The postponement was not, alas, so kind to all the club members, some of whom had travelled to Saratoga by their dozens, only to have to go home disappointed.

“We had about 60 people here last week,” said Gary Palmisano, VIP Player Services Manager for Churchill Downs and TwinSpires.com. “We’re anticipating about 20 today.”

Fewer in numbers, perhaps, but no less passionate in support of the filly and of Lukas’ decision to run her here.

“Saratoga is prestigious,” said Jamie Barnes, who travelled with his wife Vicky from their Shepherdsville, KY home for the second straight weekend. “It’s one of the most historic race courses there is, and to have an opportunity to come is a great experience. I really didn’t think real long about not coming back.” 

“It’s the Adirondack Stakes, and Wayne’s won it six times,” said Kathy Abrams of Louisville. “We’re sitting here in Saratoga, it’s a beautiful day, and our horse is racing.”

“Who could be disappointed about racing at Saratoga?” asked Club member Beth Roberts of La Grange, KY, several hours before the race.

They might have been forgiven for being disappointed, especially after last week’s cancellation, when Dial Me never fired and finish last in the field of seven. But back up at their table in the Turf Terrace, overlooking the track, the Barneses were anything but.

“You live another day,” said Jamie. “We’ll have more opportunities and more chances; we just hope that she came out of it well. Now that you own a piece, after the race all you’re worried about it is how she’s doing.”

They and the other members will be relieved to know that jockey Luis Saez wrapped up on the filly after it was clear that she didn’t like the kickback and that she didn’t take to the track, saving her for another day.

Win or lose, Vicky Barnes had no regrets about making two trips from Kentucky to Saratoga—by car—within a week.

“We love it here,” she said. “To say that you had a horse run at Saratoga…”

“It was priceless,” chimed her husband.  “And in a stakes race.”

Though new to participation in racing at this level, they are both well aware of the vagaries of the sport, ready to accept them and enjoy the high points, like the win at Ellis Park, when they come along.

“It happens,” said Jamie of the filly’s performance on Friday. “You gotta roll with it.”

Photo 1: Churchill Downs Racing Club members
Photo 2: Kathy Abrams, Jamie Barnes, Vicky Barnes (left to right)