It has been 32 years since Cordell Anderson first stepped into the spotlight at Keeneland.
In that time, millions upon millions of dollars worth of horses have passed through the ringman's capable hands—most for the span of just a few minutes, as Anderson puts some of the best Thoroughbreds in the world on display at auction.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has kept Anderson and his peers out of the ring as sales companies work to minimize person-to-person contact, it hasn't kept the experienced horsemen from having their presence felt. When consignors' staff take their own youngsters through at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, many have benefited from a little coaching from the ultimate professionals.
"Keeneland told us to be on standby, to make sure if anyone had any problems to help them out," said Anderson, who has been advising consignors' staff with fellow longtime ringman Ron Hill. "Since we're not getting to hold them, we thought we'd show them how to do it, so the buyers can see the horses and the media can get good pictures."
Anderson, who works full-time for Jim McIngvale's Gallery Racing, said he misses the thrill of holding a yearling in the ring,
"I've missed it a lot, I've missed it very much," he said. "I like to show them off and I like to give a good display, as Demi O'Byrne says, 'Give me a good display there, Cordell.'
"But we're helping them out, and we don't try to keep it to ourselves. You never know, one day they might need to be out there again. I'm not going to live forever."
Anderson came to the U.S. from Jamaica in 1981 and was working for Taylor Made Sales Agency when a member of Keeneland's inspection team saw him showing horses on the farm, and recommended him for a job in the ring.
"I got more experience and the more I did it, the more I liked it," Anderson said. "I've always loved horses. I figure if I treat them good, they'll come out running. I appreciate the opportunity that Mr. McIngvale and Laura Wohlers have given me, to work for them in the mornings and work the sales in the afternoon. I love everything about it, from showing them in the ring to watching them go to the races."
Anderson keeps track of the horses he holds in the ring, and can recite a litany of names from great mares like Lady's Secret to more recent stars like Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) winner Authentic. He said he most enjoys holding yearlings, because he gets to watch them go on to greatness.
His biggest tip for his pupils? Breathe in, breathe out.
"We just show them little pointers of what to do," he said. "Hold them straight just like I used to do it, walk them around a little bit, hold them up there and breathe in, breathe out, so they stay easy. A lot of handlers come in there and they're nervous as heck, and the horse can feel that, so you have to relax."