I’m guessing that if you ask a random sampling of people what happens in Lexington, Ky., answers will split pretty evenly along University of Kentucky basketball, thoroughbred horse racing and bourbon, which is fairly accurate.
Knoxville is a mere three-hour drive from Lexington, and I spent enough time making the trip between the two for my old job and the basketball bit. A friend of mine lived there briefly, and so the Modern Love Machine and I have visited for the sole purpose of drinking with him, though more in the style of beer drinking (neither the MLM nor I are big bourbon drinkers). Horse racing, however, is something I’d never witnessed until this weekend.
We visited the aforementioned friend who was in town visiting from his new hometown in Minnesota on Saturday. He suggested a visit to Keeneland, the lesser known of the popular horse racing tracks in Kentucky, but perhaps the more attractive of the two. Considering that a trip to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby is on my Life List, I figured a Keeneland outing might be good preparation.
On the surface, Keeneland’s races are a gigantic sorority/frat party. People dress UP … ish. I say ish because there were plenty of ladies wearing dresses that could be confused for shirts. The hats don’t really come out like they do at Churchill, but there’s plenty of heels, fancy jewelry, and bow ties (for the gentlemen). There’s also plenty of boozing done in the parking lot, and plenty of boozing done inside the gates.
Because we made a gameday decision to go, our only option was to purchase $5 general admission at the gate. The box seats, which go for as little as $10 most weekends, were sold out already but definitely would have been the way to go. The general admission section was overly crowded until the last few races of the day. I presume the crowd (which no doubt included a good chunk of Louisville basketball fans) cleared out early to catch the Final Four. General admission does offer some benches close to the action, we just didn’t score a bench until the ninth race.
Keeneland’s spring meeting runs in April, and several of the big races are precursors for the Kentucky Derby. There’s also a fall meeting in October, and any good Southerner will tell you these are the two most acceptable months to be outdoors in the South. Ten races were scheduled for Saturday, with the big race of the day — the Central Bank Ashland Stakes — running ninth. You can bet on any of the races and in many different, creative ways.
We bet a few bucks here and there on a couple of different races. The closest either one of us came to winning was on the big-money race, when the horse I put money on went for a photo finish for third place. But the photo showed that it finished fourth, and so I couldn’t even make my money back on that one.
Despite our nonexistent betting skills, the MLM and I agreed Keeneland would be worth the three-hour trip again with a little advanced planning on tickets and far better planning on outfit selection. And if horse racing is at all your jam, I’d recommend it to you.
Keeneland wasn’t that far from the main destination of our trip, Country Boy Brewing, where we camped out to watch the Final Four and heckle the local Louisville fans. Between two visits to Country Boy and their trip to Knoxville’s Brewers Jam last fall, I’ve found about a dozen of their beers that I like, which is unheard of for me. They introduced me to the amazingness that is peanut butter chocolate beer, which the brewer claims he will never brew again because of technical difficulties. Such is my life.