The return of horse racing. Not that it has gone anywhere, or has been hiding behind a slot machine. But for 17-days in October you would swear that heaven has fallen to Lexington, Kentucky. The Fall Meet at Keeneland Race Course is one of the rare treasures that fans from all walks can enjoy together. From the beautiful foliage, the aromatic smell of burgoo, and fans dressed to the nines. Going to the races is not just a day to bet and watch horses. It is an event. If heaven has Thoroughbred racing, I’ll bet dollars to donuts it looks a lot like Keeneland.
For me there are a million stories. One of my first trips down was when I borrowed a car to go. My dad had a gal who loved to play the ponies and knew how much it meant to me. One day I gave her a call to make the trek. She regretfully declined, but offered me the use of her car for the day. This was like music to my ears, as me and my $50 bankroll drove the 75 miles to the heart of Lexington. Pat Day rode four winners out of eight races, and the highest payoff was $7.00…
When I graduated high school, I didn’t have plans (or money) to go to school. I was working construction with my dad and brother. It was a good way to make some great money, and my travels to tracks increased. My brother and I were working at another construction location for the day. We arrived at 7:30 a.m., and worked like mad men unloading drywall as it was being swung high into a building. We nailed it down so quickly that the boss told us we could go home for the day, and he would pay us for eight hours. Upon walking to my car, my brother Don asked what we were going to do as we tossed our hard hats into the car. I said, ” hop in were going to Keeneland.” – It was a great day.
My cousin Tyler asked me to come to Lexington for a party. He had a gal he wanted me to meet from college. It was her birthday, and we hit it off nicely. For our first real date, I suggested that we do something fun. You do the math. She lived three miles away from Keeneland, and had never been. We had the best time in the world, and drank all of the Kentucky goodness the track had to offer. It was a place we would come to visit many more times over the years as she became my wife some years later.
I have worked in racing most of my working life. I graduated to become a high school teacher, but found my way into the marketing, handicapping, and the fan education world. I guess a bad a day at the races would beat the hell out of sitting in a class room looking at the clock. For a short stint, I had the opportunity to work at Keeneland. I surely don’t know what they saw in me, but I am glad they did. When I was being interviewed, I was chatting with my boss to be. I couldn’t help from looking beyond his face to the open blinds that showed all of the glory of Keeneland. I knew if it only lasted one day that I would be a happy man. It came true, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have been part of the inner sanctum of racing. I have worked for a few tracks, and have loved every second. But the opportunity to be a part of Keeenland team was like becoming a New York Yankee when they were at their best. If I live to be 100. I’ll fondly remember driving in those beautiful gates, and seeing the splendor in many seasons.
I have often spoke of Keeneland as a mystical village named “Brigadoon.” – A miraculously blessed village that rises out of the mists every hundred years for only a day. If any villager ever leaves Brigadoon, the spell will be broken and the village will vanish forever. I guess we can add in that Keeneland comes twice a year for 17 days. But I think you get the picture. It is rare and mystical like the village. Racing in Lexington is one-of-a-kind. The people, the equine athletes, and walking through the Dogwoods on the way to the gates. Words cannot do justice to the splendor that awaits. If you haven’t been, you better hurry because it will soon vanish into that mist until spring.