‘Barbaro’ sculptor continues to turn history into art

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VERONA, Wis. (AP) — When you see Alexa King and her husband pull out of their rural Verona driveway towing a horse trailer, there might not be a real animal inside.

But it’s a horse all the same.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that King is best known for creating the colossal statue of racehorse Barbaro that stands outside Churchill Downs — and which is now one of the best-loved landmarks in Kentucky.

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She sculpted that work of art in, of all places, her garage in Middleton. It was unveiled at the start of the race season in 2009, just a few days shy of the Kentucky Derby.

King left Wisconsin for a while, but now she is back, living with husband Eric Bolland on five acres southwest of Madison. And, again, creating exquisite, large-as-life statues of horses in her garage.

Her latest project is for the Paris, Kentucky, horse farm of a noted equestrian: a life-size bronze sculpture of a world grand champion Saddlebred, with the woman, his owner, in the saddle.

In June the community of Savage, Minnesota, will unveil King’s statue of Dan Patch — the “World’s Champion Harness Horse” who in the early 1900s was one of America’s most famous sports celebrities — and his owner, M.W. Savage. One-third life size, the statue will be placed in front of the city of Savage’s library.

Fundraising for another, $1.2 million Dan Patch statue by King, this one 50 percent larger than life, is underway for a site outside the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, where Dan Patch set a world record.

And the artist is already planning yet a bigger project that will take her around the world.

But this week, King, 65, will be back in Louisville, Kentucky, watching the horses a few days before the start of the 2018 Kentucky Derby, though she doesn’t plan to be among the some 155,000 people in the stands to watch “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.”

“People sometimes ask ‘Why do you do horses?’ I say, ‘Because that’s what I know,’” King said recently, as she climbed up a stepladder to work on the texture of the champion Saddlebred she was fashioning in her Verona garage.

“I’ve watched them, studied them, raised them,” she said.

“Took care of horses. So you get to know the feel of a horse. How it looks. The first time I cast a horse, when I touched the bronze it was cold — that was weird.

“And a lot of people in the horse business are art collectors, and they like statues of their horses. And dogs,” she said. “So that’s what I do.”

The “Barbaro” statue took King’s career to a new level, and helped lead to many of the commissions she has today, the artist said. King was selected in 2008 from scores of applicants by Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who owned the storied Thoroughbred, and wanted to memorialize him.

Barbaro was the magnificent winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby. But he shattered a leg two weeks later in the 2006 Preakness Stakes and later developed laminitis, the hoof ailment that led to his death. His illness drew an outpouring of concern from around the world. He was euthanized in January 2007, and his ashes now lie beneath King’s statue.

In creating a design for the Barbaro statue, “The requirement was: all four feet off the ground, Barbaro winning the Derby,” King said.

The whole project, from commission to installation (which happened in the dark of night, so that no one could view the artwork before its unveiling), took one year. King designed the entire plaza where the statue was set. Working 18-hour days, she molded the likeness of Barbaro and his rider in her garage because she could not find studio space large enough on such short notice.

“Usually these take two or more years,” she said of the project. “But at the presentation to the Jacksons, the owners of Barbaro, I knew they were going to say, ‘Can you get it done by Derby next year?’ So I had everything lined up — my foundry people, my mold people.

“And we wanted to put this whole thing to bed. They had been through lot” with Barbaro’s death.

The creation of the Barbaro statue — and the artistic and engineering challenges King faced — is the subject of a 29-minute documentary, available to view via King’s website alexakingstudios.com.

Allison Pareis, a friend of a friend of a friend, asked King if she could do the film as a project for her master’s degree. “Sculpting the Wind” aired on public television — and won two regional Emmy Awards.

But “Barbaro” is only part of King’s resume. The sculptor’s work has sold at the world-famous auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s, been featured in museums and galleries around the country, and is the centerpiece of landscapes both public and private.

To create a work, King starts with painstaking research. She next constructs an armature — essentially the figure’s skeleton — and fills it with housing insulation and foam to make a lightweight form. She covers that base with a wax-based clay and begins the detail work, bringing a sense of life and motion to her subject. (For horses, she sometimes even uses a curry brush, the kind used to groom equines, to texturize the coat.)

A mold-maker then takes over, often staying at King’s house for months while the work is done. The molds are sent to a foundry for the sculpture to be cast in bronze.

“There are new processes that we can use when we make statues, which is to take a small one, digitize it, blow it up and cut it out. I don’t like to do it that way,” said King. “So I do it the hard way.”

“Alexa uses a technique that is about as modern as the 15th century,” her husband jokes. When needed, a work-in-progress gets hauled from place to place in the horse trailer — because, as with a real horse, it’s a good fit.

Growing up in southern Indiana, where her father was the Army post commander at Camp Atterbury, King got the horse bug in third or fourth grade.

“When I was a kid, I raced trotting ponies on the track. I was woman driver of the year when I was about 15,” she said. Even younger, she developed a passion for making art alongside her mother, a painter.

“I’ve never done anything but that. I’ve always been an artist,” King said in an interview for “Sculpting the Wind.”

After taking art courses at Ball State University, she got her first break early in her career, when representatives from the Nelson Rockefeller Collections saw her work at a wildlife and Western art show and commissioned her to do a horse and rider sculpture depicting the Pony Express.

“I didn’t have any time to think about it. Here it was like — you’d better get on with it, baby,” she said. “It was sort of like learning on the fly.”

King originally moved to the Madison area in the early 1980s. About the time the “Barbaro” project came along two decades later, she was also finishing up her art degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, parenting her three children, and creating the statue of a veterinarian, using her daughter Nicole as a model, that stands outside the UW School of Veterinary Medicine.

Soon King hopes to launch another project: Creating life-size sculptures that portray the relationship between man and horse through history, and that will be placed on every continent.

“She’s one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met,” said Bolland, her husband of 16 years, a writer and scholar in residence in the Business School at Cardinal Strich University.

They have six adult children between them, spread across the U.S. and Canada.

Siblings, friends and affection for the Madison area drew them back to Wisconsin. King, along with working on commissions, eventually would like to teach, hold sculpture workshops and reconnect with Madison-area friends.

She and Bolland still own a log cabin from 1860 along the Kentucky River, and stay there when doing business in Kentucky. Next month she hopes to bring her three horses (two are “very geriatric” and one she rides) from Kentucky to Wisconsin to board closer to home.

With the unseasonably chilly weather this spring, her garage has been cold, making it hard on her hands. The clay she works with becomes stiffer when temperatures drop. But it’s still good to be back.

“We love it here. At first we were thinking maybe (move to) someplace warmer,” said King. “But we really like it here in Madison.”

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Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj

Breeders’ Cup preps reach crescendo with Fall Stars Weekend at Keeneland

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To the horse racing world, Keeneland is Disneyland. Everything about the Keeneland experience tells you that you are in a special place where the world revolves around thoroughbred racing and breeding.

Take Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, for example. Although it’s in a relatively small marketplace, it can handle 747 jets, because wealthy owners attending the horse sales often arrive in a jumbo jet with a large entourage. When you leave the airport, you are at the intersection of Man o’War Boulevard and Versailles Road. You’re literally across the street from Gate 1 of Keeneland Race Course. Keeneland, by the way, is adjacent to the legendary Calumet Farm. Venturing out onto various side streets, you will almost stumble upon some of the most famous breeding facilities in the world. In the paddocks of these farms, the vision of mares and their foals frolicking is commonplace, looking like a scene from a movie.

Keeneland is unique, as its elegance and its racing exist side by side with its primary purpose: being a place where millions of dollars change hands on a regular basis in the sales pavilion. A countless number of legendary horses had their careers begin with their purchase in that pavilion. Unlike venues in places like New York and California, where racing is conducted virtually year-round, racing at Keeneland is held for three weeks in the spring and three weeks in the fall.

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The fall meeting is situated perfectly to provide final prep races for many of the horses who are pointed to a performance in the Breeders’ Cup. In a span of 3 days, from October 7th to 9th, Fall Stars Weekend will feature 9 different “Win and You’re In” races in nine different Breeders’ Cup divisions. Normally, these would be very attractive races with large purses, but when you add in the fact that the Breeders’ Cup will be held at Keeneland this year, they are even more attractive. These races offer the prospect of having a horse get a final prep at Keeneland, stay stabled in the Lexington area, and then compete in the Breeders’ Cup, all in a four-week span. For those based at Keeneland, it means they will just have a brief walk through the magnificent stable area to get to the location where they will be racing.

History of The Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland

The first Breeders’ Cup held at Keeneland was the 2015 edition, and the decision to hold the event there was controversial. Many in the racing world felt that the facility was too small, as it could not hold the large crowds of Churchill Downs and Santa Anita. Brilliant management at Keeneland led to the attendance in the main building being limited, with satellite locations on the grounds handling the overflow of a total crowd of about 40,000. It was a comfortable event to attend, helped in no small part by the fact that the star of the show was the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. American Pharoah lived up to his billing, turning in a dominant performance to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the final race of his career. The event returned to Keeneland in 2020, but attendance was limited due to the pandemic. Once again, however, the star of the show delivered, as Kentucky Derby winner Authentic capped off his career with a win in the Classic.

Fall Stars Weekend will be featured in two telecasts, to be shown at 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday on CNBC. Each day will feature two live races, along with highlights of some of the other “Win and You’re In” races from the weekend.

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Saturday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

On Saturday, the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity will be shown live. The winner will gain entrance to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The likely favorite will be the Todd Pletcher-trained Forte, who was a dominant winner of the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. Pletcher has another interesting prospect in Lost Ark, who is 2-for-2 lifetime, including a runaway win in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth in his last start. Bob Baffert will be shipping in two juveniles for a possible start in the Breeders’ Futurity. Most notable of these is Carmel Road, who captured a maiden race at Del Mar by 8 ½ lengths in his last start. The other possible Baffert starter is National Treasure, who captured a 6 ½ furlong Maiden race at Del Mar in a fast time in his only career start. Another youngster pointed to this race is Frosted Departure, from the barn of Ken McPeek. This one captured an allowance race at Churchill Downs by 9 ¼ lengths last time out.

The other live race on Saturday’s telecast is the Coolmore Turf Mile, which is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. This is always a contentious race, and some veteran campaigners who haven’t lost a step highlight this year’s field. One of those vets is the Bill Mott-trained Casa Creed, who won the Fourstardave Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. Major turf races at this time of year frequently feature Chad Brown trainees, and this race is no exception. His top two probables here are Emaraaty, who won the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga in his last start, and Masen, who won the Poker Stakes at Belmont earlier this year. Paulo Lobo will return with In Love, who won this race last year.  Finally, how about a horse who has been 1st or 2nd in 10 of 12 lifetime starts at 1 mile on turf? That’s trainer Michael McCarthy’s veteran Smooth Like Strait. This one is a wide-open affair with some worthy contenders, to be sure.

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Sunday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

The first live race on Sunday’s telecast from Keeneland will be the Bourbon Stakes, for 2-year-olds on the turf. It is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Some key trainers dominate the storylines in this race. Mark Casse has won the Bourbon Stakes in 4 of its last 7 runnings, and he will run Boppy O, the winner of the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. McPeek is another 4-time winner of the Bourbon. He won last year with Tiz The Bomb, who then went on to finish 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. His 2 probables for the race are Rarified Flair (2nd in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile last out) and B Minor (won a Maiden race on dirt at Churchill Downs in his last start). It also should be noted that North America’s all-time leading trainer in wins, Steve Asmussen, will have two probable entries in Red Route One and Gigante. Red Route One won a Maiden race at Kentucky Downs in his last, while Gigante was the winner of the Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Colonial Downs in his last appearance. Finally, there is Brendan Walsh, who seems to always be a factor in Kentucky, and especially in turf races. He presents Reckoning Force, who won that $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile in his last out.

The show-topper on Sunday is the venerable Juddmonte Spinster Stakes. Back in 1984, Princess Rooney posted a win in the Spinster as her final prep before winning the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Other notables who have won this race in their final prep before winning the Distaff include Bayakoa, Paseana, Inside Information and Blue Prize.

This year’s Juddmonte Spinster features a matchup between two of the top females of the past couple of years in Letruska and Malathaat. Letruska won the Spinster last year on her way to an Eclipse Award as top older female dirt horse. This year, she has posted 2 wins and a third in 4 starts. Malathaat won the 2021 Kentucky Oaks and was 3rd in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She enters this race off a win in the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga.

This weekend presents the final North American “Win and You’re In” opportunities for the Breeders’ Cup. In New York, California, and Kentucky, 14 horses will gain entry into the “Big Dance” of Thoroughbred Racing. Most of us will be getting a case of “Breeders’ Cup Fever” this weekend, as the reality of those races on the first weekend of November draws ever so much closer.

Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

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PARIS – Alpinista made light work of the rain and heavy ground to narrowly win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Jockey Luke Morris attacked heading into the last furlong and the 5-year-old mare just held off a late charge from Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon on Vadeni and last year’s 80-1 winner Torquator Tasso, ridden by veteran Italian jockey Frankie Dettori.

“I had a beautiful draw in stall six and after being perfectly placed, there was a second when I thought we were getting drawn into it too early,” Morris said. “But once she had taken charge, I was able to sit on her from 100 meters out.”

Morris felt the conditions would have made it harder for Alpinista to attack the way she did.

“I was concerned when all that rain came but the race went very smoothly,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how it could have in a 20-runner Arc. It was incredible.”

Alpinista was among the pre-race favorites.

“If it hadn’t been my horse, I would have thought it was going to win every inch of the way, but when it’s your own of course it’s a nightmare,” Alpinista trainer Mark Prescott said. “I didn’t think all that rain would help, but she’s never traveled better and has come on with each race.”

It was not yet clear if Alpinista will next race at the Breeders’ Cup or the Japan Cup next month.