Keeneland Race Track Review
Keeneland Race Course is not nearly as old as Churchill Downs, but it has nonetheless established itself as a major stop on the thoroughbred racing circuit. It is located in Lexington, not far from the University of Kentucky. Like Churchill Downs, it was named for the person who owned the land on which the facility was built (Jack Keene). And also like Churchill Downs, there are two meets, one in the spring and one in the fall.
Keeneland is a prominent player in some of the prep races that are held prior to the Kentucky Derby. One of those is the signature race at the meet, the Blue Grass Stakes. Keeneland, despite not being open as long as Churchill Downs (1935) has observed a lot of traditions of its own that might even be considered unusual in racing circles. For example, while it is more or less standard for other tracks to do a race call that is heard over a public address system, Keeneland did not engage in that practice until 1997. And it has always maintained its basic look, resisting any vision to "modernize" it. The movie "Seabiscuit" shot many of its racing scenes there, because it was one of the locations that could most easily resemble a 1930s venue. Keeneland's owners have also been vehemently opposed to becoming a "racino" with slot machines on the premises.
One of the things that is not necessarily traditional about Keeneland is the fact that it does not use a dirt surface. In 2006 they installed Polytrack, which is a synthetic surface for the track that is more durable and handles bad weather better. The oval measures a mile and a sixteenth around. There was also no turf racing at Keeneland until 1985, and the current turf course is seven and a half furlongs.
The quality of racing at Keeneland is very high. In fact, between the Spring and Fall meets, there are eleven different Grade I stakes races, which is more than Churchill Downs. The "Road to the Kentucky Derby" makes a few stops at Keeneland; one of the first is the Breeders' Futurity for two-year-olds in October, and then in April the Blue Grass and the Lexington Stakes are prestigious events for three-year-olds.
The racing itself is only one part of what makes Keeneland so special. The other part involves the sales of thoroughbreds through its auctions, which are so well-attended that they attract horse enthusiasts from all over the world. The Keeneland Sales holds four of these auctions on a yearly basis. The January session is a grab bag of horses that could be of any age. In April there is a sale of two-year-old horses that are already established to be in training. In November, breeding stock is put up for auction, which means any horse that is capable of breeding. And the one that attracts the most attention is probably the yearling sale in September, where some of the all-time greats have found a home. No yearling sale anywhere in the world is bigger, or more widely anticipated.