Breeding, Bourbon, and Betting: a Weekend in Lexington

Keeneland Race TrackBack from a long weekend in a beautiful spot a few hours north of my home, in Lexington, Kentucky. It’s the land of great bourbon and great breeding–in horses that is–and this time it really is “something in the water.” The limestone in the soil and the water makes for good horses and good whisky, so I took in my fair share of both. Even made a family affair out of it. Despite all the talk about females in heat, alcoholic beverages, and gambling, it’s a nice place for the whole clan to go together.

After making my first trip to Graceland, Sun Studio, and the Country Music Hall of Fame in March (see Tennessee Music School), it was time to knock out another shamefully neglected legend. I’ve probably been to Lexington four times before, but I had never been to Keeneland Race Track. Louisville’s Churchill Downs is more famous because of the Kentucky Derby, but Keeneland is a beautiful track in a beautiful setting. For a lot of horse people, this is their favorite anywhere. The problem is, races only run in October and April, so if you don’t time it right, you’re out of luck.

My daughter has already seen my wife and I knocking back a few bourbons, (okay, maybe more Keeneland girl winnerthan a few), and we didn’t have any “should we/shouldn’t we” torn feelings about introducing her to the world of gambling either. “Mommy, can you buy this toy pony for me?” the little one asked in the gift shop.

“Only if your horse wins,” Mommy replied, without even blinking.

So there we were, not only betting on her behalf, but giving her a stake in the outcome as well. I’m not sure a five-year-old can pick up on the subtleties of risk analysis yet, but she picked horses by the color the jockey wore (pink or purple) and won as often as I did, poring over win-loss records and jockey history. She cheered hard all day, didn’t whine about how many races were going on, and walked home with a pink toy pony. I’m not sure what will come out of that when it’s time to talk about the weekend in kindergarten class, but she’s worldly wise at least.

Secretariet graveSince this is a value travel blog, I’m happy to say that Keeneland is a great deal. General admission is three bucks. You can bet horses to win/place/show for as little as $2, so you won’t go broke in a hurry like you will playing craps or blackjack on the Vegas strip. Concessions won’t take you for a ride anywhere close to the way they do at your average sporting event. And parking is free. Of course you can go upscale and eat at a fancy restaurant on site, sit in a corporate box, and order the best small batch bourbon on offer if you want. But it’s an option rather than a requirement. So even if you lose most of your bets, Keeneland is a winner.

Keeneland link
Lexington Tourism link

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