By Tracy Gantz
Is anything a more iconic vision of Central Kentucky horse country than Keeneland? As a horse racing fan ever since I can remember, I have always loved Keeneland, one of my favorite places in Lexington. The bucolic racetrack sits right across the street from the airport, yet nestles in the heart of gorgeous horse farms, just down the street from the famed Calumet Farm.
I grew up in Southern California, but I wanted to get into the horse business. So I chose the University of Kentucky for college. As a broke college freshman in the dorms with no car, I had to figure out a way to get to Keeneland when the fall race meet opened in October. I convinced my friend Sharon to bicycle out to the track with me. She’s such a great sport that not only did she say yes, she remains a friend to this day.
Keeneland is only six miles from UK—I can check that with a quick Google search now, something not available back..well, let’s just say it was a while ago. But it wasn’t an easy six miles with traffic. I certainly don’t recommend that as the mode of transportation.
Nevertheless, we made it out there and thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon, even though I was nonplussed when the first race went off and I couldn’t hear the announcer. Today, fortunately, Keeneland has an announcer, but back then it was “racing as it was meant to be,” which for some strange reason meant no announcer.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the short race meets—a few weeks in April and a few weeks in October. Keeneland always leaves you wanting more, and much of Lexington turns out in usually beautiful spring and fall weather for the races. I remember taking a graduate-level English class that only met on Mondays, that schedule selected so the professor could spend the rest of the week at Keeneland during the race meets.
This year’s fall season runs from Oct. 4-26, and if you’re anywhere near Lexington then, I highly recommend a trip. You don’t have to wait for AHP’s 50th anniversary celebration to go. And in a shameless bit of self-promotion, I also recommend getting a copy of the fall edition of Keeneland magazine, an AHP member. BloodHorse, another AHP member, publishes it, and yes, I do happen to have written an article in that issue.
At the races, you’ll see fabulous horses, in keeping with the rich purses Keeneland offers. For example, on Oct. 5 Keeneland will present the $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile. It has a grade 1 ranking, meaning it’s of the highest quality. Horses who have won it in the past include Wise Dan, a popular gelding who took it twice, in 2012 and 2014.
Wise Dan, now 12, enjoys retirement at a nearby farm in Lexington. To you dressage fans, I know that you consider 12 far too young for pasture-ornament status. But the horse survived colic surgery and earned more than $7.5 million, so he well deserves his leisurely lifestyle.
Wise Dan won two Breeders’ Cup races when the series was out here in California at Santa Anita, where it will be held in 2019. Keeneland successfully hosted the event in 2015 and will do so again in 2020, just a few months after AHPs 50th celebration. It’s another thing to put on your calendar: Nov. 6-7, 2020.
AHP has visited Keeneland a couple of times over the years. I particularly remember touring the Keeneland library because it has perhaps the most complete collection of Thoroughbred racing books in the country. I could have browsed there for hours.
Will we go back in 2020? AHP has plenty of committees working on various aspects of the 50th anniversary seminar. Stay tuned to this blog for updates as well as other AHP members’ thoughts on their favorite places in Lexington.