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Behind the Scenes: Keeneland Silks Coordinator has Colorful Career

October 23, 2016

LEXINGTON, KY (Oct. 23) Silks, the jackets worn by jockeys whose colors and patterns represent horse owners, are among racing’s most treasured traditions. At Keeneland, when horses arrive for races, their owners’ silks are stored in the Jockeys’ Quarters with Silks Coordinator Sean Worsley.

Worsley hangs the silks on hooks in alphabetical order based on trainers’ last names until the entries for a race day are published. He then matches the silks to each horse’s program number in the race and hangs them on hooks sorted by races.

“I pretty much know most of the owners’ colors so I recognize them on sight,” Worsley said. When in doubt, Worsley refers to the silks description that appears with each horse’s past performances in the racing program.

The colors-coordinating process continues when the silks are transferred to another station so each rider easily can don the correct jacket. Jockeys and their valets, who are responsible for the riders’ saddles and other equipment, also verify that the description in the program matches the silks they are to wear in each race.

In addition to the continuous sorting, Worsley is responsible for the daily laundry of silks. The Jockeys Quarters has several high-tech washing machines, and he prefers cold water and minimal drying to clean the silks, which are nylon or lycra.

“I tend to let them air dry because it keeps the wrinkles down so they will look better,” he said.

As the son of a Thoroughbred trainer, Worsley has been involved in racing his entire life. Born in nearby Frankfort, Ky., he moved with his family to Maryland when he was eight. He worked as an exercise rider and groom before becoming a jockeys’ valet in 1986. For much of his career, Worsley started his day working with racehorses. He has since given up barn work but keeps a busy schedule as colors coordinator at Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Ellis Park and Kentucky Downs. He spends winters in Delaware with his family that includes four sons ages 17-30.

Worsley has a special connection to Keeneland. He said his mother was pregnant with him when she came to the races here, and he clearly recalls being in the Sales Pavilion with his father when he bought Thoroughbreds at auction.

“Being at Keeneland is like coming home,” Worsley said.