Keen on Keeneland
BY KEVIN FARIS
Lexington has a very distinguished sporting tradition. The University of Kentucky basketball team has more popularity in Lexington than many professional teams have in their home cities and the football team manages to fill up Commonwealth stadium, despite a history of mediocrity (“mediocrity” is perhaps too generous a description).
Of course, now we have the Lexington Legends, whose popularity is surely tied to their willingness to let me compete in a dizzy bat contest, as well as the fan- and family-friendly atmosphere they have created over on the north side of town.
There is, however, one crown jewel for Lexington sporting tradition, only one that has an unconditional love affair with Central Kentucky, and only one that has never, ever had a bad season.
Keeneland is, without a doubt, the best thing Lexington has going.
I love Keeneland. I am only one of several thousands that feel this way. The beauty of Keeneland is how it feels so much like it belongs to us, and only us.
Let Louisville have the Kentucky Derby, we really do not need it. It is always funny to hear the national sports media gush over the beauty of Churchill Downs.
Ask anyone around here and they will tell you the truth. Churchill Downs is a rundown track in the middle of a neighborhood that is not exactly the nicest in the world. I know they are in the process of pouring a lot money into renovation and restoration, and that is good, because they need it.
On your way to Keeneland, whether coming from Lexington or Louisville, you pass the large green rolling hills of local horse farms. On your way to Churchill downs, you pass people in lawn chairs offering you a chance to park in their yard for $5.
Beautiful is not even a good enough word to really describe Keeneland. It needs a better word, maybe one that can be reserved solely for the most beautiful things in the world; like a bride on her wedding day, a newborn baby, or Britney Spears. If you use it to describe anything that does not measure up to the strict standards that have been set, you would be subject to a hefty fine.
For most people, their love affair with Keeneland starts at a very early age. I remember my parents taking my sister and me to the track when we were very little.
We each received $20 and a program to make our bets for the day. This is back in the day when I would pore over the program and then bet $2 on each race. That was big money. Now, I pore over the program and then bet $12-$20.
One thing has not changed though, I still lose a lot more than I win. The fact that so many families are able to come to Keeneland and share the experience is just another in the long line of great things the place has to offer. It is one of the local traditions that is passed down from generation to generation, and every time you see a mother pushing a stroller or a father holding a kid up so he can see the horses, you know Keeneland has made another lifelong fan.
The horses are just one part of the entire Keeneland experience. I have a friend who loved to come to Keeneland, and he rarely made a bet. My friend, who lives in Dallas now, simply liked to get all dressed up and go out in the middle of the day for drinks.
There are no more lovely women in the world than the ones who are walking around Keeneland on a Saturday afternoon. I do not know if girls around here are just simply prettier than those from other states, or if they just know how to put it all together.
The latest in fashions are always on parade, whether it be the spring or the fall. Outfits are selected weeks or even months in advance for the meets, and it is impossible to walk five feet without seeing what you are positive is the girl of your dreams, until five minutes later when you see the new girl of your dreams. The men are not as into the fashion parade. Don’t get me wrong, the guys like to look nice in their suit and ties, but maybe we need to branch out a bit. I have a friend who’s just dumbfounded by what he says is Lexington’s obsession with blue shirts, and he is right, look around. I am as guilty as anyone, so in honor of my friend, I pledge to not wear a blue shirt on my next trip to Keeneland.
Keeneland is the first place you want to take an out of town guest when they come to visit. When people move away, they coordinate their visit home to coincide with the opening of Keeneland.
The day I realized that Keeneland was even more beautiful than I previously thought occurred in December a few years ago. It was unusually warm, probably in the 50s, and I accompanied two friends to the Paddock Shop to pick up a Christmas gift. As we pulled into Keeneland, we realized that we were more or less on our own. We looked around and could not see a single soul. We wandered around, just taking in all the sights, and commenting on how different it looks without the throngs of people. We strolled around the Paddock area and through the grandstand. We then walked out onto the track itself and trotted down the “home stretch.” It was amazing, and looking into the empty stands I could literally picture the cheering crowds in my mind. I guess we are lucky that security never came out and ran us off; this is something I do not think you could do at someplace like Yankee Stadium or Wrigley Field.
The love affair between Central Kentucky and Keeneland will probably never die, and that is a good thing.
Keeneland belongs to us, and one day we will pass it on down to the next generation. Until then, we will get dressed up, we will have a Maker’s and coke, a cup of burgoo, and try to make some money.