We’re Keen on Keeneland (And You Will Be, Too)

horse races lexington ky

Keeneland, Lexington KY

A horse is a horse, of course, of course … but Keeneland is more than a race course. (Of course.)

No visit to Lexington is complete without taking in the sights that make it famous – including TripAdvisor’s top-rated attraction, Keeneland. As soon as you turn in, you’ll understand why it’s No. 1. Located directly across the street from the airport, Thoroughbreds come in on their own planes before making their way over.

We had the great fortune of enjoying a breathtaking tour of the grounds. After a sneak peek of the Clubhouse (used for private events), we took in the Grand Stand and even stood in the Winner’s Circle. We also checked out the Sales Pavilion and strolled through the Gift Shop.

There’s always a lot going on at Keeneland, with live racing every April and October, around 15 days per month. If you’re here to purchase a horse, Thoroughbred auctions occur in January, April, September and November.

Keeneland is home to nearly 80 percent of the world’s Thoroughbred population. The compound was originally built by John Olivier “Jack” Keene. He had great success as a horse trainer in Russia and Japan, so much so that he was banned from racing in Russia.

Constructed as Keene’s training grounds, the track actually faces the wrong direction, for those ‘in the know’. All horse races occur in the afternoon, but this track was placed for morning light. High shrubs have been planted and ponds covered in attempts to minimize the glare into the Grand Stand.

The entire compound stays open year round. Visitors are encouraged to walk up, stroll the grounds and watch the training that takes place every morning from around sunrise to 9:30 a.m.

Although Keeneland is a for-profit organization with stockholders, no dividends are ever distributed. Monies go toward the care of the property and jockeys, and are also spread into the community.

We bet you didn’t know jockeys are often introduced to their horse on the day of the race. Only serious winners (think American Pharoah) have raced with the same jockey multiple times. And they’re certainly incentivized to win. If they do, they receive a percentage of the purse. Otherwise, they may only earn $75 to $100 per race.

We could go on and on about the auctions, so much tradition surrounds them. Even in the digital age, nothing is digital. Everything is done the old-fashioned way. Seats are marked for the farms and families who frequent the sales. Visitors may attend, but be careful how you move. One flick of your hand or scratch of your nose, and you may be the proud owner of a new (possibly quite expensive) horse.

Spotters in the audience watch for these small signs to confirm bidding. Horses can go for as little as $1,000 to upwards of $8 million. New owners have 24 hours to take the horse off-property. Visiting from another country? No problem! Folks are standing by to arrange international transport.

If there’s no room in your pocketbook or your backyard to take one of these beauties home, it’s still worth a visit. Keeneland is located at 4201 Versailles Road in Lexington, KY. For more information, visit the Keeneland website or call (859) 254-3412.

– Ashley Kahn Salley
Lead Storyteller, Innisfree Hotels