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Keeneland Is Dreamland for Thoroughbred Racing
By Tom Adkinson

LEXINGTON, Ky. – A special excitement begins to build in Lexington every spring as daffodils and azaleas begin to bloom and leaves start to pop out on the trees of the Kentucky bluegrass region. It all revolves around the region’s most famous residents, regal Thoroughbred horses.

Spring and fall meets at Keeneland in Lexington are central to Kentucky’s Thoroughbred racing tradition; image by Tom Adkinson.

The spring meet is approaching at Keeneland, perhaps the perfect setting for Thoroughbred racing.

Keeneland, where speedy steeds have been celebrated and appreciated since 1936, has enthralled generations of race fans, earning National Historic Landmark status along the way. Its Kentucky-quarried limestone clubhouse, stately shade trees and gorgeous track are picture-perfect.

keeneland parade
Regal Thoroughbreds parade through race fans on the way to the starting gate; image by Tom Adkinson.
keeneland spring meet
Keeneland’s spring meet is a signal for the big hats and fancy dresses to come out of the closet; image by Tom Adkinson.

For three weeks every April and October, Keeneland buzzes with devoted fans of Thoroughbred racing who are joined by people simply curious about what happens in this arboretum-like setting.

keeneland racing
Not everybody gets the dress code memo for a day at the races at Keeneland, which only adds to the color; image by Tom Adkinson.


The spring meet has a special flair, when university coeds trade winter coats for sundresses and wide-brimmed hats to impress their dates, themselves decked out in navy blazers and silk ties. Keeneland really does project a genteel aura. The spring meet for 2019 is April 4-26 (no races on Mondays and Tuesdays or Easter Sunday).

One of the treats of watching a race at Keeneland – in addition to winning a bet, of course – is listening to Kurt Becker, the only person who has called a race over the public address system here.

Keeneland, one of the most tradition-laden of all racetracks, didn’t even have a public address system until 1997. It’s that old school.

Becker, just 27 when hired, was very good from the start, and the track president has compared his performance to that of Michael Jordan at the peak of his prowess.

Becker isn’t flashy and attention getting like Jordan. Instead, his performance is solid, knowledgeable and above all else, on the money. His every call of a race, admirers say, is “a clinic in accuracy.”

keeneland budweiser man
Every outdoor sporting event wouldn’t be complete without an attention-getting beer vendor; image by Tom Adkinson.

One of the track’s founders, Hal Price Headley, set the tone for the whole operation from the very beginning.

“We want a place where those who love horses can come and picnic with us and thrill to the sport of the Bluegrass. We are not running a race plant to hear the click of the mutuel machines. We want them to come out here to enjoy God’s sunshine, fresh air and to watch horses race,” he said.

Keeneland appeals even outside the spring and fall race periods. It is the world’s largest Thoroughbred auction house. Gross sales regularly exceed $400 million a year at sales events in January, April, September and November.

If race and sales events don’t match your schedule, you still can get an up-close look at horses in action. The main track is open year-round, and you’re welcome to watch horses train from 6-10 a.m. There are guided tours Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. After the morning workout, you can retreat to the Track Kitchen for a Kentucky breakfast and perhaps a conversation with an owner, trainer or jockey.

Trip-planning resources: and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published March 29, 2019

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