April brings the annual migration of horse racing enthusiasts to Lexington, Ky. Myself included! A new year starts the countdown. Every day is a day closer to the moment I will walk Keeneland’s elegant stone walls; when I will reverently greet the towering sycamore, placing my hand against it as I pass by. It is another year gone, another year older - for both of us. Keeneland is my “ground zero.” However, there is a plethora of incredible experiences waiting to be discovered beyond the historic Keene grounds. Here are a just few of my favorites:
KEENELAND RACE COURSE
Keeneland offers a great race-day experience for fans young and old. The facility and its employees warmly welcome guests not only for racing, but also morning workouts, where families can get a glimpse of action “behind the scenes.” Aside from race-day action, a visitor can also enjoy a hearty southern breakfast alongside the sport’s major figures at the track kitchen or brush up on racing history at the Keeneland Library. Guided and self-guided tours of the track are also offered. Parking is free, but there is gate admission to the track. The Library is open to the public free of charge.
For more details, visit: http://www.keeneland.com/discover
The centenarian Claiborne Farm symbolizes the American Thoroughbred. Dozens of racing legends have called the farm’s yellow and white shedrows their home. In the 1970s, fans from across America toured the farm for a glimpse of Secretariat, while European racegoers flocked to see 1970 English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky II. The Hancock family still breeds and raises Thoroughbreds on the property and visitors are welcome to visit the farm to see their favorite stallions, including the farm’s homebred Blame, who famously upset Zenyatta in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Tours are free of charge and reservations are required. The tour guides are wonderful – make sure to show your appreciation by offering a tip to your guide at the end of the tour!
For more details, visit: http://www.claibornefarm.com/
KENTUCKY HORSE PARK
HALL OF CHAMPIONS SHOW AT THE KENTUCKY HORSE PARK
Photo courtesy of Melissa Bauer-Herzog
Undoubtedly many who made journey to visit Secretariat and Nijinsky II made a point to visit the Kentucky Horse Park, which opened in 1978. Situated in Georgetown, the Kentucky Horse Park welcomes horse-lovers of all forms to take in the surreal beauty of a passion brought to life. There are the graves of heroes such as 1987 Kentucky Derby winner Alysheba or Man o’ War and his Triple Crown-winning son, War Admiral, here, open for visitation. A life-size bronze monument of the Polish Arabian great Bask greets all who enter the International Museum of the Horse, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute that is the largest and most comprehensive museum focused on the history of horses. One can observe living modern history in the Kentucky Horse Park’s Hall of Champions show that includes Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin, Hall of Famer Cigar, two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Da Hoss, and near-Triple Crown winner and American celebrity Funny Cide. There is a gate admission to the park.
For more details, visit: http://kyhorsepark.com/
OLD FRIENDS FARM
Photo courtesy Tom Ferry
While Lexington holds the title as “Thoroughbred Central,” the nearby town of Georgetown stakes claim to a couple significant stops for racing enthusiasts. In addition to the Kentucky Horse Park, Georgetown is also home to Old Friends – a retirement farm for racehorses and pensioned breeding horses. Founded by Michael Blowen in 2003, Old Friends is the only Thoroughbred rescue/retirement farm concentrating on stallions. (However, Old Friends also cares for mares and geldings.) Through a single year, 20,000 guests enjoy visiting highly influential Breeders’ Cup winners and Eclipse Award winners such as Gulch and Sunshine Forever. Tourists are welcomed to the farm daily, reservations are required.
For more details, visit: http://www.oldfriendsequine.org/default.aspx
Photo courtesy Eclipse Sportswire
A winding road through the finest of the Lexington Bluegrass leads you to WinStar Farm’s stallion complex, the home to some of the greatest current breeding horses standing at stud. Manicured and colorful with flowers, the barn warmly welcomes its many visitors to see its inhabitants. Guests enter the lobby and can admire the timeless memorabilia adorning the walls such as Well Armed’s Dubai World Cup saddle pad and halters from their top horses. The tour begins with a video of Tiznow’s two consecutive Breeders’ Cup wins over European competition, showing him as the only horse to take two Breeders’ Cup Classics. Then comes the opportunity to see ‘America’s Horse’ in the flesh: the visitors are led into the stabling area where he awaits. After Tiznow is returned to his stall, guests can see the farm’s other stars in their own stalls and tour the breeding shed. Free admission and reservations are required.
For more details, visit: http://www.winstarfarm.com/