The Out-of-Towner's Guide to the 2012 Keeneland Spring Meet
by Heather C. Watson
Every spring, about this time, we start receiving the calls, texts, and emails
from our out-of-town friends. Folks who don't live in the Commonwealth -- and even a few Kentuckians who don't live in the Bluegrass region -- want to talk Keeneland. They've never been, they've heard it's in April, and they sure would like to go. Their questions range from the basic (What do I wear? What days can I go?) to the practical (What is there to eat? Can I take the kids?) to the nearly absurd. (What if I don't want to drink or bet?) They want to learn to "do" Keeneland, and they call upon us -- the token Lexingtonians in their lives -- to show them the ropes. As the Spring Meet begins, here are the answers for all your guests' questions. We locals may even find a few helpful tips for the meet as well.
Most Central Kentuckians can rattle off basic Keeneland information like our own social security number. Every year, we provide the same answers to our racetrack newbie friends and acquaintances: "There are plenty of activities for children." "You'll want to comply with the dress code for the area where you'll be sitting, but above all, dress nicely." "Non-drinkers and non-bettors still can find plenty of activities at Keeneland."
Even with the basics firmly embedded in our minds, we sometimes find ourselves fumbling for exact dates. For quick reference, Keeneland's 2012 Spring Meet runs from April 6-27, with live racing held Wednesday-Sunday. The track is closed for Easter Sunday. The most popular G1 races will be held on the second weekend of the meet; the Maker's 46 Mile is on Friday the 13th and the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes will be held on the 14th.
For many of us, simply going to Keeneland is enough. We're entertained by the beautiful scenery, the thrilling races, the pageantry and the seemingly never-ending stream of people we know. With a little planning, however, it's easy to tailor our guests' Keeneland experience to their interests.
Events for first-timers
April Saturdays showcase Keeneland wonderfully for first-time visitors. Your guests can enjoy special events that introduce them to track basics, including the perennially popular Breakfast with the Works, a Southern-style breakfast buffet that is held during the jockeys' early morning workouts. Saturdays also bring Handicapping seminars, Q&A sessions with jockeys, and photo opportunities with beloved Call to Post bugler George "Bucky" Sallee. If your guests' schedules allow for a Saturday visit (and if they're up for the crowds that attend Keeneland's most-visited day of the week), these events provide an excellent introduction to the track.
Each Keeneland meet is filled with a host of specialty events. Most any visitor can find an event to meet a personal interest, from College Scholarship Day to Military Appreciation Day. Bourbon-loving guests can enjoy the Maker's Mark bottle signing on April 13, featuring Maker's scion Bill Samuels IV and UK football great Tim Couch. The philanthropically-inclined visitor will want to attend Horses and Hope Day, a breast cancer awareness event hosted by Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear, on April 15 and Concert on the Lawn, a fundraiser for the Markey Cancer Foundation, on April 27.
If you'll be entertaining a book-lover during the Spring Meet, you'll want to check out the equine-themed book signings at the Keeneland Gift Shop. Authors Berkeley and Jeanine Scott will be signing their book Keeneland Race Course on April 7, and Jamie Nicholson, author of The Kentucky Derby, will be signing on April 14. On April 25, the Gift Shop presents Tony Ryan Book awards signings.
If shopping is on your guests' agenda, the Keeneland Gift Shop offers three millinery trunk shows in April. Visitors can shop for chapeaux from Satya Twena Designer Hats on the 6th and 7th, celebrity milliner Christine A. Moore on the 12th through the 15th, or Dorfmon Hats on the 20th through the 22nd.
If your guests enjoy wagering or want to be in the know for Derby, you should certainly plan their trip to the track around one of the Graded Stakes. Take a moment to remind your guests that Graded Stakes performances and purses earned will impact the horses' qualification for Triple Crown races. This year's Spring Meet offers seven Grade III races, three Grade II races, and five Grade I races. The Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, the final Grade I race of the meet, will be held on April 14, boasts a $750,000 purse, and is a springboard to the Kentucky Derby.
For the full Keeneland experience, remind your guests to sample at least one Kentucky product like burgoo or bourbon, take a walk through the paddock, and watch at least one race from the rail. You may want to join them in these simple activities -- you may just find yourself falling in love with the track all over again.
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