Springtime in the Bluegrass is a horse lover’s paradise, especially if the horses you love are the kind that run really fast on left-handed ovals for purse money. The Keeneland spring meet embodies all of the wonder and promise that comes with this season, with this year’s top Kentucky Derby contenders racing on the same weekend as champion older horses while next year’s stars are just getting their starts in the 2-year-old races.
Whether you’re a new fan to racing or a diehard railbird, Keeneland should be on your list of must-visit racetracks. If you’ve already made the commitment to come for this Saturday’s outstanding Blue Grass Stakes (which will earn its winner a cool 100 points toward the Kentucky Derby) then I have a handy-dandy guide for how to attend a day at this historic track.
The first thing that you should know is that Keeneland is all about the tailgating; and this is not your average, pre-football parking bar-b-que. This is a full on, sportscoat and sundress-bedecked, cornhole-playing, bourbon-drinking affair with some of the best food you’ll ever have the pleasure of eating. I mean, look at this pulled pork that my friend Matt Watts made last fall at Keeneland. And the scary thing? It’s even tastier than it looks.
Didn’t bring a car or haven’t earned your Michelin Star yet? No worries! You’re in the South now. People are happy to share, make new friends and try to figure out the winner of the fifth race.
Plus, this spring, Keeneland has expanded its offerings in the tailgaiting area, showing their races on jumbotrons, letting revelers gamble on the Hill and even offering the services of “betologists” for nervous novices. You can’t miss them, and they’re super friendly and approachable.
The Hill is also where our very own ABRV Ambassadors are going to be hanging out on Saturday, so be sure to swing by, say hi and learn a thing or two about how to get into the great game of horse racing.
So, congratulations! You’ve had a good meal and a drink (or possibly two) and you’re ready to make your way into Keeneland to enjoy a day of racing, betting and socializing. Where’s the best place to watch all of the action? First, you can go watch horses in the saddling paddock as they get ready to go to the races.
This is where trainers give jockeys last-minute instuctions, owners bid each other good luck and racegoers have the pleasure of seeing the horses before they head to the starting gate. The Keeneland paddock is especially picturesque, and there are even balconies where you can get a bird’s eye view of the action.
The part of the Grandstand that faces the racetrack is called the “apron” for whatever reason, and it’s a great place to watch the races. You can get right up on the rail to watch the Thoroughbreds thundering home.
When the starting gate is right in front of the crowd it’s awesome to go and hear the frantic exchanges between the jockeys, the assistant starters whose job it is to keep the horses and riders safe in the gate, and the starter who decides when the gate should open to ensure a fair start for all.
The Grandstand is huge, and there are all sorts of options for visitors to the track. If you’re feeling casual, you can hang out at one of the many bars located on all floors of the Grandstand. It’s a really fun, party atmosphere and a great way to meet fellow fans. There are also plenty of dining options all over the place – I highly, highly recommend the famous Keeneland burgoo, a stew that is probably one of the most delightful things I’ve ever had. There’s also amazing bread pudding if you feel like indulging your sweet tooth, plus the usual racetrack fare like hot dogs, ice cream, chili and more.
The great thing about Keeneland is that there’s really not a bad place to watch the races. There truly is something for everyone here; and please note that if you can’t make it to the track, you can catch all of the Blue Grass Stakes action on NBC starting at 4:30 – 6 p.m. ET on Saturday and continuing on NBC Sports Network with Arkansas Derby coverage from 6-7 p.m.
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll be back tomorrow with more action out of Keeneland!