Jacob Young

‘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.

Kentucky Derby: What Time, Where to Watch, Horses, Post Times

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

A Derby with lightly raced colts, and lots of possibilities

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Todd Pletcher is throwing numbers at the Kentucky Derby again. Bob Baffert is seeking a fifth victory and he’s got the favorite, too. An old jinx could be disproved, and history would be written if Mendelssohn wears the garland of red roses.

The 20-horse field for Saturday’s 144th Run for the Roses includes a handful of top contenders who have been consistent this spring.

Kentucky Derby: What Time, Where to Watch, Horses, Post Times

Justify was the 7-2 favorite in early wagering Friday. Trained by Baffert, the Southern California colt, however, is green, with just three starts.

“We have a good enough horse that can win it, but it’s a very competitive race,” Baffert said. “You’re going to have to have some luck.”

Justify is undefeated and Magnum Moon is 4-0, neither having run as a 2-year-old. They’ll be trying to upend a so-called curse: No horse since Apollo in 1882 has won without racing as a juvenile.

Arkansas Derby winner Magnum Moon is one of four horses to be saddled by Todd Pletcher, who won last year’s Derby with Always Dreaming.

Pletcher’s Audible was the co-third choice at 6-1 with Mendelssohn on Friday. Along with Magnum Moon, Vino Rosso and Noble Indy were double-digit longshots for the trainer, who is tied with mentor D. Wayne Lukas for the most Derby starters with 48.

Mendelssohn has the least amount of time on the Churchill Downs dirt than any horse in the field. The Ireland-based colt made his first appearance Thursday – drawing attention with his screeching – after spending the first part of the week in quarantine for Aidan O’Brien. The trainer is 0 for 5 at the Derby, the biggest victory to elude him.

Mendelssohn was an 18 +-length winner of the UAE Derby. His regal bloodlines and $3 million price tag suggest he would be a worthy champion, but no Europe-based horse has won the Derby.

My Boy Jack moved up to the 5-1 second choice in early wagering Friday. The closer is trained by Keith Desormeaux and ridden by Kent Desormeaux, a three-time Derby winner and Keith’s brother.

Despite Good Magic’s top-notch credentials, he was relegated to the 7-1 fifth choice on Friday. He won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and claimed an Eclipse Award as last year’s 2-year-old champion. The colt won the Blue Grass last month, one of six victories at six different tracks.

Getting the ideal trip in the Derby is critical, especially with the traffic from 20 horses making a chaotic charge into the first turn. Jockeys want to avoid anything that would prevent their horse from getting into rhythm, like being bumped, cut off or blocked.

“There’s so many horses in the field that seem like they have good chances to win the race with a clean trip,” said Chad Brown, who trains Good Magic. “I feel like we have one of them.”

High school dropout Mick Ruis will try to become just the third owner-trainer to win. He has Bolt d’Oro, the colt named in part for Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt. Bolt d’Oro finished second to Justify in the Santa Anita Derby.

“This is the best we’ve had him,” Ruis said.

Besides Baffert, four other Hall of Fame trainers are in the race: Steve Asmussen (Combatant), Jerry Hollendorfer (Instilled Regard), Lukas (Bravazo) and Bill Mott (Hofburg). Baffert and Lukas are tied for the second-most wins with four each. None of the others has won a Derby.

Hofburg is Mott’s first Kentucky Derby runner in nine years. Hofburg has just three career starts, including a runner-up finish in the Florida Derby.

“This may be as good a chance as I’ve ever had,” Mott said. “Some of the tougher horses in the race are fairly lightly raced.”

The frequently changing forecast for Saturday calls for a chance of rain at different times during the day. Post time is 6:46 p.m.

Baffert fears black cats, feels good about Derby entry

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Trainer Bob Baffert is feeling pretty good about the chances of his latest Kentucky Derby contender, Justify, despite the horse’s lack of experience on the track.

Baffert told “PodcastOne Sports Now” co-hosts Jim Litke and Tim Dahlberg that Justify — the early favorite for Saturday’s race — should be fine despite having only run three races in his life. Baffert said Justify has shown an ability to adjust quickly to race conditions, and he expects that to continue in the Derby.

Kentucky Derby: What Time, Where to Watch, Horses, Post Times

Baffert is seeking his fifth Derby win with Justify, which won the Santa Anita Derby last month. The horse will be trying to become the first to win the Kentucky Derby after not racing as a 2-year-old since Apollo turned the trick in 1882.

One thing Baffert doesn’t want to see during Derby week, though, is an animal of another kind. Baffert says he has a thing about black cats, and hopes one doesn’t cross his path in Louisville.

AP basketball writer Brian Mahoney joins the hosts to talk about NBA playoffs, and Dahlberg discusses the Vegas Golden Knights and the scene in Las Vegas for the NHL playoffs.

And, of course, there’s some talk about food in the newly renamed Podcast One Sports Now show, backed by the worldwide reach of The Associated Press sports department.