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|l||Tie on the Feedbag at Keeneland
This is a great time of the year. The sky is blue, birds are singing, the trees are blooming, and it's one minute and three seconds to post, and I am the fourth person in line, trying to get a new two-dollar boxed trifecta for the final race-this time including the thirty-to-one horse that I just got a tip on from a one-eyed scold who was selling four-leaf clovers and rabbit's feet in the beer line. Excellent signs of money forthcoming.
Keeneland's spring meet ushers in sloppy tracks, long-shots, men in linen suits, women in hatsand food: burgoo followed by bread pudding with Maker's Mark Bourbon sauce. The offerings for eating and drinking are plentiful here and, thanks to Turf Catering, consistent every year. There are concession stands, dining rooms, the clubhouse, box seats, and the track kitchen, so where to eat can be confusing and intimidating if you are a newcomer and not aware that there are a few rules.
For example, the dining rooms that are available for reservations are full for this spring, so remember to be prepared for next fall's meet.
If you are...
...prepared months in advance
The Equestrian Room, on the ground floor facing the track toward the finish line, is a fairly casual, large dining room with many televisions and betting machines. There isn't a strict dress code, but reservations are required (written requests for the fall meet will begin on August 24th and phone reservations on September 16th ), and there is an admission charge that varies from weekday to weekend and stake's days. An a la carte menu is served offering soups, salads, sandwiches, and a few entrees such as Hunter Style Chicken and Maryland Crab Cakes.
The Lexington and Kentucky Rooms are very large dining rooms on the fourth floor trackside, that are specifically for groups of 40 or more (written requests for reservations accepted after June 3rd ). They have the most strict dress code of the public dining rooms: men must wear a coat and tie, women should wear a dress, skirt, or dress slacks. No denim is allowed. These rooms have wonderful views overlooking the track along with televisions for viewing your winning thoroughbred. For lunch, they serve a buffet with typical regional fare like round of beef, chicken breasts, and several vegetables.
The Phoenix Room is very similar to the Lexington and Kentucky Rooms in almost all aspects except that it overlooks the Paddock instead of the track, is set up for smaller groups (written requests starting June 3rd for 16 or more people and on September 3rd for less that 16), and the dress code is more relaxed. Ties are optional.
...In the big show
The Lafayette Room on the fourth floor is a green room, of sorts, for the trainers and owners of that day's stakes race to observe the races, be nervous, enjoy a meal. They have a small private dining room with a bar and stepped seats that overlook the course, naturally, and the finish line.
...Here on the boss's dime, or a prospective or attentive client
The Corporate Boxes, also on the fourth floor, are really chic. They are more private than the other rooms, have a wet bar, a specialized buffet, betting machines, televisions, seating for viewing the races, and lots of brass and Keeneland green.
...Invited, royalty, or show biz royalty The Keeneland Room, above the fourth floor, is where one is invited. Elizabeth Taylor and Queen Elizabeth II dined here (not at the same time) when they visited Keeneland. This room is round and opulent, surrounded in glass with an azalea-decorated outdoor area in which to watch the races from up above.
...Members The Clubhouse is a members-and-guests-of-members-only section of Keeneland. It has its own lovely entrance, second floor and third floor dining rooms that face the track, lounges, and lawn with little white tables and chairs. The protocol for being a guest of a member is thus: the member should call to say that they will have a guest and, very important, should make reservations for a table if they are planning for the guest to eat. Many people assume that they will have a dinner reservation if they have a clubhouse ticket, but no.
...Otherwise (Breakfast with the works)
Concessions are available all throughout Keeneland, so don't worry that you will go hungry without a dining room reservation. Bratwursts and reubens can be found at "Brats n' Brew" on the first floor along with "Cappuccino Cafe" for gourmet caffeine and soups. On the second floor, "Blue Cactus Cantina" serves tacos, burritos, and other Tex-Mex-type foods, and the "16th Pole Grill" serves burgers, fries, pizza, sandwiches, and bread pudding.
...Up and at 'em early Off-site and a small walk away is the great Track Kitchen where you can eat a delicious, hot meal for practically nothing, then walk around taking award-winning photos, watching the horses' morning workouts. It is open to the public seven days a week, year round except for two weeks in February, from 5 a.m. until 7 p.m. during the races and sales and from 6 a.m. until 11 a.m. the rest of the year. This is great fun, especially early in the morning, summer or winter.
Keeneland is a beautiful race track where I, along with many others, open my wallet and freely give them my money hoping for something wonderful in return. Food and drink, certainly. Winning horses, rarely.
Please email your culinary heads-ups to Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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