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Day Four: Versailles to Bardstown, Kentucky

Keeneland is to horse racing what St. Andrew’s is to golf.

Legions of stylish white-haired ladies show up daily only to admire the steeds in the warm-up rings, never going near the betting windows. Almost all the staff are older folks who work a couple months for a couple bucks and the joy of being near the breed. Best yet, beyond the Keeneland enclave, horse farms unfold as far as the eye can see.

We secure for $5 a table in The Equestrian Room, spreading out Racing Forms and bet sheets amid late-morning coffees.

Near the finish line, Doug finds a dime. “Rig deal,” says Polly, “I found a $20 bill at the window. The clerk told me not to even think about trying to find out whose it was.” It is a harbinger. With fewer than a dozen visits to any track, Polly has a sharp sense of handicapping. This day, her success is almost fictional, two trifectas (picking which horses will finish 1-2-3 in their exact order) and a horse in the money in every race except two. Slicksters with gold chains and fistfuls of 100’s start looking over her shoulder. Betting almost timidly, she wins nearly $260. Betting many of same horses, less daringly, Doug pockets about $20, covering the Equestrian Room’s tab for a superb lunch with Maker’s Mark pudding for dessert.

We are still emotionally high when we reach Lawrenceburg’s Joe Blackburn Bridge, a third of a mile long, 175 feet above the Kentucky River. Doug parks and walks out to photograph both it and the 275-foot Young’s High Railroad Bridge just to its south. Joe Blackburn, in the shape of an “S” and here since 1932, quivers with each passing car. Doug is glad very glad, to be off this bridge too far.

In Bardstown, we check into Wilson’s Motel, second-oldest in Kentucky. Our hosts descend from those for whom Cornell University is named.

Dagwood’s rejects us. When we request a non-smoking section, it is as if we had spat on the flag. During the dinner hour, it enforces a minimum higher than Joe Blackburn’s bridge. We don’t even say good-bye.

Now we tiptoe up to the stylish, flagstoned Kurt’s at the city limits, fearing that Dagwood’s demeanor speaks for all Bardstown. But Kurtz’s is all non-smoking and honored to serve us dessert and iced tea. Racks upon racks of fresh-baked pies hover along a back wall, served at a gracious pace by a young red-headed waitress.

Kurt’s has brochures for tours of the Maker’s Mark distillery, about 20 miles up in the hills. But it’s off Route 62 and not a practical diversion, Doug says, as then it’s “lights out” at the second-oldest motel in Kentucky.

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