There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man. ~ Winston Churchill
When in Kentucky, the horse capital of the world, spending a day with thoroughbreds is a must in my book. Keeneland moved to the top of our must-see list as this satisfied my desire to see some magnificent horses and Terry’s interest to go the races for the first time. It was also Keeneland’s final race weekend of the year. In 2009, the Horseplayers Association of North America ranked this track the number one thoroughbred race track in North America so it seemed the perfect place to get our fix.
Keeneland was founded in 1936 as a non-profit, dedicated to racing and auctions, on a gorgeous piece of Lexington property that had been owned by Jack Keene. Much of the profits from the racing and auctions are used to further the thoroughbred industry and support the surrounding community. In 1986 Keeneland was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark. They have two racing seasons here, the month of April and that of October. April races contain several preps for the Kentucky Derby and October races focus on the Breeder’s Cup.
We arrived at the track early to explore the property, in the hopes of seeing some horses being prepped for the big race day. The surprise of the day was encountering Tom, one of Terry’s fellow high school football players, who worked at the track. He generously allowed us into the inner track, giving us the opportunity to watch the race from the rail, up-close and personal, right next to the winner’s circle (be still my heart). Our escort was a warm, engaging man of 86, Jim “JR”, who has volunteered at Keeneland for 20 years, and is quite the ladies’ man I soon learned.
Having purchased tickets at the last minute, our seats were in the grandstands so we thought we would be watching the races from the monitors, for which we were quite content. Imagine our excitement to watch from the rail, horses flying by, thundering hooves reverberating in our ears.
For those who think the thoroughbreds here run on a dirt track, you would be mistaken. Although it looks to be exactly that, it is Keeneland’s own proprietary Polytrack, a mix of silica sand, recycled synthetic fibers, and recycled rubber/PVC, which they converted to in 2006.
I was ecstatic to think I would be so close to the winner’s circle, watching horse and jockey being brought in, almost close enough to touch. Riding on Dream Softly, Joseph Rocco, Jr. was to claim the first win of the day.
We didn’t realize at the time that we had snapped a shot of him before entering the tunnel to head onto the track. And I was not prepared for the surprise my good buddy JR had for me immediately after the race.
After leaving Keeneland, we decided to drive part of the Bluegrass Driving Tour, where beautiful rolling hills and pastures and the trademark black picket fences of the horse farms can be found. It was a perfect way to end the day.
Time permitting, I would have loved to explore Old Friends Farm for Retired Thoroughbreds just outside of Lexington, an organization dedicated to giving these magnificent, gentle beauties the respect they deserve after their careers have ended, much preferred to the slaughter auctions that so many face.