On a cold and blustery afternoon, I walked past the ancient Sycamore tree and the familiar scent of horses caught my nostrils. Walking across the paddock area, and feeling the years of history whisper gently in my ear. I knew that I could only be in one place – in beautiful Lexington, at historic Keeneland.
If you have never made the trek, I would have to say that this should be a part of every horse player’s pilgrimage. There are no religious statues or a chapel in the grandstand, but about every twenty minutes or so during live racing you can feel many fans reaching out for divine intervention.
The stands feel as if your great-grandfather could be sitting there taking in a day at the races. It is rare that you find a place that has been around since 1936, and offers an old-time feel with the technology of the day. You could say that Keeneland is the “Brigadoon” of racing as it appears for 15 days every April and October.
I made my first trek many moons ago. It was a place that was bustling with activity, and I never felt more at home. There used to be no announcer, and you would know the race was off when the crowd would erupt. As the horses charged for home, you could feel the hair stand up on the back of your neck. To this day, it is the only track I have ever attended where fans clap and cheer for the runners as they make their way back to unsaddle. Today, you will hear the smooth tones of Kurt Becker as he brings the race to life.
If you are looking for a bite, then you are in the right place. Keeneland offers the best of Kentucky fare, and some specialty items that are more guarded than Fort Knox. Over the years, I have watched the facility become family-friendly. You will see kids of all ages walking to see the pageantry of the horses in the saddling area, or find them playing along the rail waiting to feed an outrider’s pony a peppermint. Needless to say, the palace of racing has something for everyone. This Saturday is the Toyota Bluegrass Stakes. It is a race that has produced 23 Kentucky Derby winners, and if you are keeping score, the last to complete this effort was Street Sense in 2007. There will be a julep cup presented to the winning connections, and $750,000 in purses for three-year-old hopefuls to bankroll on their way to Louisville for the first Saturday in May.
Time is of the essence, and if you have not made plans to be on hand, I would do so now. Racing concludes on the 27th of this month, and it disappears into the mist until October where the grand palace of racing appears again. Keeneland is a special place; one that holds many memories for me. Take a look around when you are there, and take in all that the experience has to offer. I don’t think you will leave disappointed. If you are really quiet, and close your eyes I bet you will hear the sounds of thundering hooves of past champions, and those yet to be crowned.