The Hidden Gem of Keeneland Racetrack

Keeneland Racetrack offers much more than thoroughbred racing and bourbon. Plan a sunrise visit and enjoy a Southern breakfast.

If you have ever traveled to Lexington, Kentucky, you know it is truly horse country. Some of the fastest thoroughbred racehorses in the world call it home. Sitting right outside of downtown, you’ll find rolling hills of Kentucky bluegrass, miles of plank and old stone fences, and majestic horses waiting to greet you. I have always felt that certain places have specific energies. For example, New York City is a town that never sleeps. You feel that when you walk the streets of New York. It’s an electricity that never goes away.

Central Kentucky has its own energy, too. I’ve felt it my entire life, but I don’t think you must live here to feel it. I’m sure visitors experience it too. It’s almost a magical energy. It’s an energy full of history, hard work, old money, bourbon, and pretty horses.

It’s a playground for dreamers who built those dreams on the fast feet of thoroughbreds. It’s a place where hope is always alive, and charm can be found on every corner.

Speaking of charm, you won’t find a place more charming or more Southern than Keeneland Racetrack.

Keeneland Racetrack was founded in 1936 and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful racetracks in the country. When you walk into Keeneland, it is intimate and overwhelming at the same time. You’ll see beautiful limestone buildings, breathtaking paddocks, the saddling area, and then, of course, the rush of the track. If you don’t feel a reaction deep in your soul, I would be worried.

You’ll want to follow tradition on race days and grab some good ole Kentucky Burgoo and bread pudding. You will find all walks of life at Keeneland. Some will be dressed to the hilt, and others won’t (Ladies, no hat is required. You can save the hat for the Kentucky Derby). Some patrons live to be in the Clubhouse (members only), while others want to be down under the grandstand watching the action. It’s truly a sight to see and pretty popular; over 300,000 will go through the Keeneland gates during the race meets.

However, as much as I like the race meets at Keeneland (they race two months out of the year, April and October), it’s not my favorite thing about this track. Most people don’t know this, but Keeneland is open year-round, and I’m going to tell you, being at Keeneland when they aren’t racing horses is impressive.

My favorite is getting up before sunrise, grabbing my coffee, and heading to the track to watch the horses work as the sun rises. Every morning at Keeneland, the trainers and exercise riders exercise their horses on the track. It’s beautiful, calming, quiet, and something worth seeing. Not many people know this, even locals, but to me, this is the finest of the track. I love to be there early and enjoy this majestic place without the loudness of the crowds, the long lines, the parking, etc. It’s so fun to watch the horse and rider’s elegant dance as they aren’t competing for a win but just enjoying a great ride early in the morning. This is the real gem of Keeneland.

Once you’ve watched the horses and walked the grounds, head over to the Track Kitchen. Again, one of the best-kept secrets in this town, you won’t find a better breakfast. The Track Kitchen opens at 5:00 am every day, and I recommend the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich or their french toast. Of course, you can never go wrong with biscuits and gravy. Sit and listen to the trainers and riders talk about their mounts for the day. It’s an opportunity to breathe in this industry, to learn, and to really feel a part of it.

So, when you visit our gorgeous town, don’t miss all the charm Keeneland Racetrack offers. Its beauty alone is breathtaking. However, I encourage you to grab a cup of coffee and sit trackside on a quiet morning and watch the horses while no one else is watching. Trust me, that is where the true magic lies.

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This article was first published in our Fall 2018 magazine.

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