Keeneland, Picturesque Horse Racing
Most people vaguely familiar with horse racing have heard of Churchill Downs, Pimlico, and Belmont Park. Beyond these racing venues there is a beautiful, intimate, picturesque setting that will take a horse racing enthusiast back to the day when the experience at the track was as important as the actual race. This is the offering that is part of beautiful Keeneland, the Thoroughbred City. It is known for its racing and its horse sales.
Keeneland is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and as a National Historic Landmark. While The Kentucky Derby is known for it's celebrations, clothes, hats, and the singing of My Old Kentucky Home, Keeneland has the ambiance of racing that dates back to the European continent before America was established as a colony.
Triple Crown winners
Traveling through Lexington, one takes in the magnificent setting of miles of black fencing separating thousands of acres of thoroughbred farms where the super-rich spend their disposable income breeding, training, and racing horses that they pray will be the next Triple Crown Winner.
William Monroe Wright founder of Calumet Baking Powder Company established the great Calumet Farm which produced many Triple Crown winners. The family of the Sutan of Brunei and Queen Elizabeth, who has visited Keeneland in recent years, are said to have horses in Lexington.
To become a Triple Crown Winner, a three year old thoroughbred must win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. By winning the Triple Crown, a horse joins the elite company of 11 Triple Crown Winners. Besides the prize money, the owners will also cash in on the breeding fees and sales of the winner's offspring.
Notable Triple Crown Winners
- Secretariat won the Triple Crown after a 25 years when no horse won the coveted prize. He won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. In the Belmont Stakes, he broke the record of Count Fleet who won the same race by 25 lengths. This is also the race with the fastest speed in horse racing history; 37.5 mph. Secretariat is listed as the 35th top athlete by ESPN. On this death there was an outpouring of grief from around the world.
- Man o’ War is considered by some to be the best race horse of all times. He was born on a Nursery Stud Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. He began his career in 1919, and by the end of the year he was a legend breaking all the records. He won 20 of 21 races, and won close to $250,000.00 which was a fortune at the time. He is buried at Kentucky Horse Park. He is still ranked as the number one thoroughbred out of the 100 best in history.
- Seattle Slew was foaled at White Horse Acres Farm in Lexington, KY. He was foaled by My Charmer, a six time champion. Charmer’s offspring was to go on to greater glory. In 1977, Slew became the 103rd winner of the Kentucky Derby. When originally sold, he brought only $17,500.00. He won 14 firsts and over a million in purses by the end of his career. He sired over 100 stake winners.
Lexington, about 70 minutes to the east of Louisville, is the heartland of many of the worlds’ most famous horse farms. There are beautiful farms that can be seen from the roads that wind their way through the gently rolling hills of north central Kentucky.
If passing by Hill ‘N’ Dale Farm, visitors can see the birth place and final resting place of Settle Slew. Behind his grave site is a brick stable that has the appearance of a magnificient brick home nestled in beautifully manicured lawn. This farm has bred and raced some of the most famous horses in the world. Race horses are buried with heart, hooves, and head. Horses such as Secretariat and Seattle Slew were given the honor of being buried whole.
The world renowned and beloved Secretariat is buried at Claiborne Farms in Paris, Kentucky. Man 'o War and five of his offspring are buried in Kentucky. Alysheba is also buried there. He won two legs of the Triple Crown and sired 11 very successful thoroughbreds.
What makes Lexington the prime area to breed a horse? Years ago when the pioneers first came across the continent in what was then still Virginia, this area of the country was covered with tall grasslands. The legend goes that some pioneers looked over the grasslands in the sun and claimed it had a blue hue.Trees were absent and planted later. The grasses here are perfect for thoroughbred horses due to the limestone that lies beneath most of Kentucky and produces pasture land so desired by breeders and trainers. Calcium carbonate enriches these grasslands. Stables that pasture and feed thoroughbreds on this enriched grassland produce race horses with bones strengtened from the calcium. This is also why the bourbons distilled in Kentucky are like none other.
Horse racing contributes five million dollars to the economy in Kentucky each year with breeders, trainers, farm managers, black smith, and vets. Tourism and the movie industry add even more jobs. Keenland was the setting for scenes in Seabiscuit because of the picturesque panorama. After 75 years of hosting the best races in the country, Keeneland still host spring and fall meets. In the off season, the track is open for off track betting. They even boast a drive through venue for placing bets.
Whatever the reason for visiting Kentucky take time to visit the horse farms open to the public or one of the many tours that will take you pass the palatial home of owners and horses alike.
Who do you think is the greatest Thoroughbred Horse in History?
- Enjoying Kentucky on Derby Day
Horse racing in Kentucky is not just for the Track. Derby Day, the Oaks, Thunder over Louisville, are all part of the picture when visiting Louisville during Derby Week.