Visitors to central Kentucky’s horse country have many options to consider when scheduling a tour. They can visit one of several prominent Thoroughbred stud farms to see firsthand how the breeding and foaling process works, learn about horse health at veterinary clinics, or go behind the scenes at other businesses that support the state’s signature industry. But for an unforgettable introductory experience, no location beats Keeneland. The famous racetrack and sales company in Lexington has drawn fans of the sport from all around the world throughout its 83-year history, presenting an unparalleled combination of tradition and aesthetic beauty that turns first-time patrons into lifelong fans whenever they visit.
Keeneland was founded by a group of horsemen in the early 1930s and held its first race meet in October 1936. It holds month-long meets each April and October that have become seasonal rituals for residents of Lexington and surrounding counties and also draw in visitors from around the world. Keeneland’s spring meet is highlighted by the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, an important prep race for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, and its autumn meet centers around Fall Stars Weekend, the opening three-day extravaganza that features several “Win and You’re In” races for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Keeneland hosted the Breeders’ Cup for the first time in 2015 to resounding success, and will host the event for the second time in 2020.
Keeneland began holding annual sales in 1943, and in 1961 merged with the Breeders’ Sales Company to form a powerhouse auction company that as of 2019 holds four sales during the calendar year. Its two signature sales are the Keeneland September yearling sale – by far the largest yearling auction in North America – and its November breeding stock sale. Keeneland generates more than $500 million annually at its auctions, and is represented by buyers and sellers from more than 50 countries worldwide.
Aside from being a preeminent racing and sales company, Keeneland is noted for its broad-reaching philanthropic efforts to support the Thoroughbred industry and the surrounding Central Kentucky community. And the grounds at Keeneland encapsulate the splendor associated with Kentucky’s bluegrass region, offering immaculate landscaping and striking architectural features that make a lasting impression. Keeneland was named a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
Keeneland offers two tours via Horse Country: a year-round guided walking tour and a backstretch tour. The guided walking tour begins in the morning and lasts about an hour. Guests will visit Keeneland’s paddock and grandstand as well as the sales pavilion if the tour occurs during the auction season, and learn about Keeneland’s tradition and current operations along the way.
The backstretch tour lasts two hours and offers guests a behind-the-scenes look at the bustling early morning activity in Keeneland’s barn area as Thoroughbreds train for racing or prepare for the sales. Visitors will watch morning workouts and also stop by the restricted jockeys’ quarters during the tour.
Both tours are held largely outside, rain or shine, and guests are advised to bring ponchos (no umbrellas) and to wear comfortable shoes. For more information on the walking tour, click here, and for more information on the backstretch tour, click here.