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'Racing as it was meant to be': Keeping history alive at the Keeneland Library

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Posted at 5:00 PM, Oct 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-18 11:28:48-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Keeneland race course is rich in history and tradition. Most people who live in Lexington know where Keeneland is and what it is.

But learning more about why and how it's here may make your appreciation of this Lexington gem even greater, including the Keeneland Library.

Racing as it was meant to be. That's a saying, or more like a mission, you'll hear around here often.

"'Racing as it was meant to be' is a sportsman-like atmosphere, a fun atmosphere, an outdoor, healthy atmosphere," said Keeneland Library Director Becky Ryder.

And one that gives back to the industry.

In the 1930s, thoroughbred breeder Jack Keene sold 147 acres of his farm to a group of people in the horse industry intent on keeping horse racing alive in Lexington -- the heart of horse country.

"And they wrote a very eloquent business plan," said Ryder. It wasn't just some rad idea. They wrote out a very poetic, well-crafted business plan."

Keene had already started building a race track on his land and the newly-formed Keeneland Association took over.

"Within less than a year, they completed the track, with a lot of help from the community," she said.

Keeneland race course opened in October of 1936, with an opening day crowd of 8,000. A success.

And from then on, Keeneland raced a Fall Meet and a Spring Meet.

The premier races when it opened, the Phoenix Stakes, Bluegrass Stakes, and Ashland Stakes, among others, are the premier races today.

And off the track, other traditions are timeless.

"We think about burgoo and bread pudding. The bread pudding with the glazed bourbon sauce," said Ryder. "Then I think about things like the new traditions we now have like The Hill, and that is the tailgating spot."

The founders intended for it to be a special place where history and traditions remain.

"Every time you step back into the track or into the grandstand, it just kinda washes over you," she said.

Keeping with tradition, Keeneland's Fall Meet opens this Friday. The gates open at 11:00 a.m.