So, you’re coming to Lexington for the 2015 Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland? Where to go and what to do while you’re visiting the beautiful bluegrass region? You’ll be traveling to the land of fast horses, beautiful women, and bourbon. Of course you’ve googled and yelped and Trip Advisor’d, but what you really want to know is how to live like a local while you’re here. We might be known for horses and hoops, but Lexington has even more to offer…and now you’ve come to the right place for the unofficial Breeders’ Cup Guide to Lexington.
In addition to all the events going on in town for the Breeders’ Cup and Breeders’ Cup Festival, the bluegrass region offers a wealth of treasures to keep you busy with art, music, and of course, some of the best dining options in the entire South.
With heavy reliance on 27 years of Ace’s annual Best of Lexington and Best of Kentucky Readers’ readers’ polls, here’s the Ace list of things to do in Lexington for Breeders’ Cup 2015 — specially curated to make sure you live like a local when you’re here.
Number 1: Bourbon
As presiding Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has put it, “95 percent of the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky…and the rest is counterfeit.”
Drink where it all began, on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Alltech’s Town Branch Distillery was the first distillery in Lexington to be added to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Handy for Breeders’ Cup visitors who are staying downtown or near Keeneland, it’s conveniently located in the cluster of Alltech buildings at the junction of West Maxwell Street, Versailles Road and Oliver Lewis Way. The distillery produces Town Branch bourbon, named after the underground aquifer that runs through downtown Lexington and feeds some of the Lexington water supply.
The other distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail are: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg; Heaven Hill, Bardstown; Jim Beam, Clermont; Maker’s Mark, Loretto; Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg and Woodford Reserve, Versailles.
And don’t forget the Kentucky Bourbon Trail’s popular younger sibling, the Kentucky Bourbon Craft Trail.
Number 2: The Kentucky Brewgrass Trail
Still thirsty? Perhaps you didn’t realize that craft brew is giving bourbon a run for its money for bluegrass regional identity. Don’t just take our word for it. Southern Living says, “Bourbon will always be king in Kentucky, but there’s a new sipping trend in the Bluegrass State—craft beer. The state has seen half a dozen breweries open in the past few years—so many that there’s now a Brewgrass Trail lined with hops-packed stops. Perfect for: Beer aficionados with a soft spot for pastoral, tree-lined allées.” (October 2012) The trail includes: Against the Grain Brewery, Alltech’s Lexington Brewing Company, Beer Engine, Bluegrass Brewing Company, Country Boy Brewing, Cumberland Brewery, Lore Brewing Company, and West Sixth. Lexington’s craft brew scene has exploded in recent years. (Bluegrass-brewed options include: Blue Stallion, Country Boy, and West Sixth, along with Rooster Brew in nearby Paris.)
Number 3: The Kentucky Doughnut Trail
Even the New York Times has caught on to a tradition Kentuckians have prided themselves on for years: the Kentucky Doughnut Trail. No visit to Lexington would be complete without a trip to Spalding’s on Winchester Road. Keep a couple caveats in mind. They take cash; they close as soon as they sell out; and they’re not open on Monday or Tuesday.
Number 4: The Legacy Trail
After all that bourbon, beer, and doughnuts (hopefully not at the same time), you might find yourself in need of a little fresh air and exercise. Lexington’s Legacy Trail extends from Lexington’s downtown out to the Kentucky Horse Park and is a car-free dream for area cyclists, walkers, and art lovers.
Number 5: Street Art
Street Art can define a city. “On La Brea in Los Angeles, it’s Albert Einstein. Hovering mid-air off the Highline in New York City’s Chelsea, it’s ‘V.J. Day in Times Square,’ the iconic photograph of a sailor returned from WWI kissing a nurse in a deep dip. On Vine Street in Lexington, Kentucky it’s Abraham Lincoln, a Kentuckian, in his seated pose from the Lincoln Memorial, splashed in vivid color on the 60-foot back of The Kentucky Theatre,” by artist Eduardo Cobra. Recent additions to our streetscape include more works completed during PRHBTN 2015, like the mural of Louis Armstrong completed by Odeith in Lexington’s east end.
Number 6: See a show at the Kentucky Theatre
Lexington’s beloved Kentucky Theatre opened on Main Street on October 4, 1922, and wasn’t substantially renovated until the 1950s. Fire closed its doors “temporarily,” in 1987, but it remained dark until 1992, when Herculean community efforts got it re-opened. It celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2012 with a renovation and is the perfect spot to take in a movie or concert on a beautiful fall evening on Lexington’s Main Street. They’ve even lined up a slate of horse-themed movies during Breeders’ Cup week.
Number 7: Saddle Up. The Kentucky Horse Park.
Home to the 2010 World Equestrian Games, the 1200-acre Kentucky Horse Park on Iron Works Pike is a beautiful way to actually see horse country, while getting close to the actual horses. They might even let you ride one (for a small fee). Tourist tip: do not try that at Keeneland.
Number 8: Lexington’s Distillery District
With historic roots that tie into Lexington’s past as a bourbon producer a century ago (home to the Old Tarr Distillery and the James E. Pepper Distillery), Manchester street in west downtown used to be best known as a convenient shortcut (off the Jefferson Street viaduct) if you needed to go bail somebody out of jail. It wasn’t too long ago that only weeds grew among the warehouses along the way, and for many years, it wore a sad air of doomed and shabby-half-abandoned- industrial chic. The “half-abandoned” aspect was key to its revitalization. Since the location wasn’t especially in-vogue for a hundred years or so, the neighborhood also largely escaped the development bulldozers. Instead of razing the old warehouses to make way for pre-fab urban lofts, our Distillery District is now closer in spirit to what the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Triangle managed when it began transforming tobacco warehouses into authentic and vital urban corridors. Lexington’s Distillery District is an organic work-in-progress of urban infill, decades in the making. It is currently home to Middle Fork Kitchen Bar, Ethereal Brewing, The Break Room at Pepper, Crank and Boom ice cream lounge. If you’re looking to bump up against Lexington’s creative class, this is one of their watering holes.
Number 9: Lexington’s Cheapside Square
Cheapside Square is part of the heart and soul of downtown Lexington (live music is programmed there nightly during the Festival). It is home to our Farmers Market and popular seasonal programming like Thursday Night Live weekly summer concerts, festivals, and Food Truck Fridays. Urban Times wrote it up as “Lexington’s Sensational Public Square,” and a Washington Post travel piece hailed its “sensory overload.”
Top Ten Events During Breeders’ Cup Festival Week
You can read all about the official 2015 Breeders’ Cup Festival programming here, but we’ve also curated a Top Ten list of Events you will want to sample while you are in town during Breeders’ Cup week — some are part of the Festival, some are long standing Lexington traditions, and some are just part of the fabric of Lexington’s local flavor.
The Lyric Theatre hosts Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X. Walker’s play “I Dedicate This Ride,” based on the legendary African-American rider Isaac Murphy October 23-25. In this production, Message Theatre brings to life the mind and heart of jockey Isaac Burns Murphy (1861-1896) who was born into slavery, but managed to rise to prominence in a career that brought him wealth, honor, and international fame. Frank X Walker is a founder of the Affrilachian poets and a former Kentucky poet laureate (read more about Frank X Walker here.)
Lexington has a lively, delicious, and hard-won food truck scene. Saturday, October 24 marks the first ever Feeders’ Cup at Legends Ballpark from 3 – 10 pm. The festival invites food trucks from the commonwealth and the tri-state area to compete for the glory of earning the grand prize. Winning trucks will be selected by a panel of judges and then voted on by the public. Categories include Southern classic, world fusion, and farm to table. The five winning trucks will serve and sell their full menu during the Winners’ Stretch at Cheapside Pavilion during the entire week of the Breeders’ Cup Festival.
After you’ve tied on the feedbag at the Feeders’ Cup, a little fresh air and exercise the next day might do you some good. The crew at Kentucky for Kentucky has organized a 25-furlong fun run at the Kentucky Horse Park on Sunday afternoon, October 25.
Sunday evening, Lexington’s annual Thriller/ Halloween Parade will take over downtown. This popular annual signature event is beloved by natives and visitors alike. Don’t stay in your hotel room and watch The Walking Dead (though it was created by a Kentucky native), visit downtown instead and watch thousands of zombies dance down Main Street to Thriller. Stick around for Here Come the Mummies at Cheapside Pavilion.
On Wednesday, October 28, The Kentucky Bourbon Trail presents Bourbon Backstretch – Master Distillers Night at The Livery at 6 pm. Join the members and Master Distillers of the world-renowned Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour and sample some of the best Bourbon that the Bluegrass has to offer.
Also on October 28, the Oliver Lewis Way Bridge Lighting and Fireworks commemorate the life of rider Oliver Lewis. The unveiling of a public art display is followed by a fireworks show, and a celebration follows in the Distillery District.
Secretariat premiered in October of 2010 at the Kentucky Theatre. As part of the week’s lineup of horse movies in honor of The Breeders’ Cup, The Kentucky will show Secretariat on Thursday, October 29.
The main event: Breeders’ Cup World Championships kick off at Keeneland on October 30-31 at 9 am. The Breeders’ Cup Bash at Red Mile lets you watch, wager, and celebrate the Breeders’ Cup onscreen at the newly renovated Red Mile. A full offering of food, music, drink, and wagers will be presented from the first races to the last.
For a listing of Breeders’ Cup events, click here.
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