The Horse Who Changed Everything for me never ran in a stakes race and I never cashed a ticket on him. He finished in the money a lot (32-for-56) in his Midwest pari-mutuel career, but I never saw any of those races.
I met Karen’s Look in August of 1975 at the Effingham County Fair in my hometown of Altamont, Illinois. He was a 6-year-old Illinois-bred, and so was I.
Karen’s Look was locally owned and trained by Dean and Judy Baird. He had a locally based jockey in Dennis Morrison. And the striking gray knew how to win races.
Typically running in 5-furlong events, Karen’s Look would break from the top of the stretch, lead the field past his throng of cheering fans, handle the tight turns of a county fair bullring like a pro, and blaze down the stretch by a widening margin with Morrison motionless in the saddle.
It happened in 1975, 1976 and again in 1977. He took a break in 1978 before returning to peel off three more wins from 1979 to ’81. My father, Carl, was the track announcer for virtually all of those performances, and his stretch calls were electrifying – at least what one could hear until the roar of the crowd overpowered the public address.
Sitting in the front row, one could reach across the concrete retaining wall and almost touch Karen’s Look as he returned in front of the grandstand for the trophy presentation.
It was a county fair. It was an $800 purse. And it didn’t matter. To a 6-year-old boy, this was equine excellence.
Karen’s Look even had the power to transform something as routine as the posting of a draw sheet into a moment of anticipation. One’s eyes would race down the page, hoping to see his name. Once it was spotted, waiting for the 48 hours to pass until race day was like waiting for Christmas morning.
I would trust my dad’s assessment of the entries.
“Do you think he will win this year?” I would ask. My dad usually answered with a question: “Is there any doubt?” Before long, I stopped asking, and I soon learned what my father meant when he said the only question would be “the final margin.”
Karen’s Look ran during an era when America was watching Seattle Slew and Affirmed and Spectacular Bid. The folks at home thrilled to those same horses during national telecasts, but at the hometown fair during the first week of August, it was Karen’s Look who evoked the cheers against a backdrop of Ferris wheels and cotton candy.
It mattered not the size of the stage; Karen’s Look inspired with his performances. At the grassroots level, he had the ability to make one wonder what it would be like to be part of the sport of kings.
He was the Horse Who Changed Everything.
Kurt Becker became the first announcer at Keeneland Race Course when he called the opening race of the spring meeting in 1997 and continues to serve as the Lexington track’s announcer. An analyst for the Horse Racing Radio Network since 2009, Becker started his career announcing Standardbred and Thoroughbred races as a teenager on the Illinois fair circuit in the mid-1980s before accepting a post as the Voice of Chicago Racing in January of 1993. In the latter role, he succeeded legendary race caller Phil Georgeff at Arlington Park, Hawthorne Race Course, and Sportsman’s Park. Becker also works on Motor Racing Network’s coverage of NASCAR events and as an announcer for auctions conducted by the Keeneland Association and Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society.