LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY IS HORSE COUNTRY
Rolling Pastures and Miles of White Wooden Fences
By Arvin Steinberg
To me, there is no adventure quite so thrilling as when my horse crosses the finish line in a race. I love horses and horseracing and nowhere in the world is the majesty and beauty of the horse enshrined in the hearts and minds of the people as it is in Lexington, KY. This is horse country. Here, the horse is revered. No wonder Lexington is known as the “Horse capital of the world” and no wonder this city spelled adventure with a capitol “A” for me.
Lexington is a lovely mid-western city located in the scenic Bluegrass region of Central Kentucky, 80 miles east of Louisville, and 87 miles south of Cincinnati. As I left the Lexington airport for the short drive into the city, I began passing rolling hills and miles of white wooden fences that surround some of the world-renowned horse farms of Lexington.
Being fifty plus, a visit to a horse farm was a must on my things to do in Lexington. When I was a child growing up, the most famous horse farm in the world was the legendary Calumet Farm. I remember reading about Calumet Farm in the sports pages and listening to the Kentucky Derby on the radio. Many of the horse farms in Lexington offer guided tours, and I chose Calumet Farm because of the memories from my boyhood days and because of the unparalleled success of this farm.
What a thrill it was to tour the well-kept 800-acre farm with its rolling pastures and seemingly endless 30 miles of white wooden fences. I rode in a comfortable van that stopped at several points of interest throughout the tour. It was like seeing a beautiful scene from a movie watching the magnificent horses grazing in the pastures.
It was also fascinating to hear about the farm’s illustrious history. And what a history this farm has. Calumet Farm owned and bred two triple-crown winners, Whirlaway and Citation. It also owned and bred eight Kentucky Derby winners, bred an additional Kentucky Derby winner, and owned and bred seven Preakness Stakes winners. Eleven of Calumet Farm’s horses were admitted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame, and eight of its horses won Horse of the Year titles. There is also a cemetery on the grounds of Calumet Farm, complete with headstones and statues where many of these equine champions are buried.
For an even more comprehensive tribute to the horse, I highly recommend a visit to the Kentucky Horse Park, which is also located in Lexington. This park is situated on 1,032 acres and is the only park of its kind in the world. It is a working horse farm and also an educational theme park dedicated to man’s relationship with the horse. You could easily spend an entire day at the park. The great thoroughbred, Man O’ War, is buried at the park, and a bronze statue of this amazing horse marks his grave at the entrance to the park.
Even though the park is immense, it is easy to visit all of its attractions. If you want to cut down on your walking, you can ride trolleys pulled by draft horses, including Belgians and Clydesdales. Carriage rides are also offered to show you the beautiful stone walls, old tall trees, and horse farm vistas on some of the park’s back roads.
Children will also enjoy a visit to the blacksmith shop where horses come in for shoe repairs and other treatments.
The International Museum of the Horse is an outstanding museum at the park, the largest equine museum of its kind. The museum traces the 58-million year history of the horse, and you can learn about the more than 100 different breeds of horse. This is a great family attraction suitable for children of all ages.
Don’t miss the outdoor “Parade of Breeds” show at the park. It is where selected horses are put through their paces by authentically costumed riders to highlight the unique characteristics of the different breeds.
A special attraction at the Kentucky Horse Park, is the “Hall of Champions”, where an elite group of retired champion horses reside. Here, I was able to stand next to and even touch such great thoroughbred legends as Cigar and John Henry. I couldn’t help but get a lump in my throat as these famous champion horses were paraded before us and we were told of their record setting accomplishments. Even though these champions are no longer able to race, they will be cared for and respected at the Kentucky Horse Park for the rest of their lives.
The Kentucky Horse Park features more than 40 different breeds of horse at work and at play and special events throughout the year.
I also visited Keeneland Race Track in Lexington, KY. Within the thoroughbred industry, Keeneland is considered the leading “proving ground” for top horses. For me, a $2.00 bettor, I saw Keeneland as one of the most beautiful race tracks in the world. Keeneland has a park-like atmosphere with hundreds of trees and the fall colors were spectacular. The buildings are of limestone with some parts covered with ivy. Keeneland Race Track is a National Historic Landmark.
Breakfast at the Track Kitchen offers a flavor of Bluegrass country. On the day I chose to go to the races, I got up early and went to the track at 7:30 A.M., because I heard that the Track Kitchen at Keeneland was the place to go for a hearty breakfast. I was surprised to see hundreds of racing fans with their families enjoying the breakfast buffet featuring eggs, biscuits and gravy, grits, and Belgium waffles, for only $4.00.
After breakfast I watched the horses go through their early morning workouts. A very knowledgeable track announcer gave lots of information about horse training and exercising. He also pointed out Kentucky Derby winner, Monarchos, who was exercising that morning.
I returned to the track in the afternoon for the races. I didn’t win any money, but I loved every minute of my afternoon at this historic track, watching world class horses and jockeys and cheering on the horses I hoped would be winners. I had lunch in the clubhouse and enjoyed some local favorites, a cup of “Burgoo” – a special Bluegrass stew, and hot browns.
Keeneland offers live racing in April and October. Keeneland is also an important sales company where auctions are held and millions of dollars are bid for prized thoroughbreds.
Kentucky is not only horse country, it is also Bourbon country. Bourbon is America’s only native spirit, and almost all Bourbon is produced in Kentucky. There are three distilleries in the Lexington area and they all offer free tours. I chose the Labrot & Graham Distillery in Woodford County, a short and very scenic drive from Lexington.
This small picturesque distillery makes Woodford Reserve, a select, premium whisky. It is one of the oldest distilling sites in Kentucky, and is the only distillery in the state using the pot still method. I thoroughly enjoyed the sights, smells, and sensations of this relaxing tour. I will long remember the heady aromas of yeast and grain, the glimmer of copper tanks, and the cool almost eerie quiet of the warehouses where row upon row of wooden barrels stretch into the darkness. There is also an impressive visitor’s center that provides a panoramic view of the entire 42-acre site. At the end of the tour you are offered free tasting of this premium Bourbon.
A visit to Lexington would not be complete without a visit to the Coach House Restaurant where Caesar Salads are still mixed and served at your table and man’s size hearty steaks are served to guests. This Lexington landmark continues to reign supreme among horse owners and horse lovers everywhere.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:
Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, 301 East Vine Street, Lexington, KY 40507
Phone: (800) 848-1224; Fax: (859) 254-4555
Photographs by Phyllis Steinberg
1. Acres of picket fences around Lexington.
2. Bronze sculpture of “Phoenix “ American Saddlebred show horse at Kentucky Horse Park.
3. Coach House Restaurant in Lexington.
4. Labrot & Graham Distillers
5. Breed of Champions Horse Show at Kentucky Horse Park.
6. Sounding the bugle for the races to begin at Keeland.