Like Willy Wonka opening up the doors to his chocolate factory, WinStar Farm allowed dozens of starry-eyed racing fans to get a close-up peek at a barn of superstars Nov. 28, including Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) winner Always Dreaming, as part of a benefit for equine research.
Thanks to research funded by the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation through the University of Queensland in Australia, Always Dreaming has recovered from a bout with stomach ulcers and is being pointed to a comeback in 2018. He'll stand at WinStar near Versailles, Ky., when his racing career is over.
The Kentucky Derby winner was the star of the show at WinStar on Giving Tuesday as part of a fundraiser for the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. WinStar Farm donated $25,000 to the organization and welcomed 100 fans who donated $50 each to visit Always Dreaming and a lineup of heavyweight stallions including Pioneerof the Nile , Bodemeister , Exaggerator , Speightstown , Super Saver , Distorted Humor , Tiznow , Paynter and recent addition Battle of Midway.
Jamie Haydon, vice-president of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, noted that grade 1 winners Lady Eli and Paynter were able to bounce back from bouts of laminitis due to research developments funded by the foundation.
"Always Dreaming came in today for this. He is a little jumpy, so be careful," said Bethany Wurl, WinStar's marketing coordinator, during the afternoon showing.
Always Dreaming, a son of Bodemeister, gave a brief glance at the crowd before turning his attention to the shank held by his handler. Pioneerof the Nile and Bodemeister were also brought out to the center of the stallion barn so fans could come up to pet them and take a photo.
Carly Harling, who works with The Jockey Club near Lexington, had her photo taken with Always Dreaming and called him "absolutely gorgeous.
"I'm glad to see they are bringing him back to racing," she said.
The 11-year-old Pioneerof the Nile, sire of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah , gave the impression of perhaps being the strongest of the barn's sires. At 16.2 hands, he is one of the tallest horses there.
According to Wurl, the stallions are each given a paddock of three to five acres where they graze and rest most of the day and night. They are ridden a half an hour each day when it is not breeding season.
Helen Stevens-Gleason, of Ohio, said her first horse died from colic and laminitis. "This is really important to me," the attendee said about the work of the research organization.
The Grayson-Jockey Club received a public boost this summer when Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith pledged 1% of his earnings to the foundation on Travers Day and ended up winning the Travers Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) aboard West Coast.
"The horses give us so much. This is my way to give back to them," Smith said at the time.
Tuesday's event ended with some giveaways, including Always Dreaming's hind shoes and halter. Kathy Maher, a photographer for the Thoroughbred aftercare organization ReRun, won the halter.
"I'm just overwhelmed," she said.
Those wishing to contribute to the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation can do so through their website, grayson-jockeyclub.org.