The best way to learn about Keeneland is to spend some time with one of the concierge tour guides. On a cold winter day on the last day of the January sale, I had the honor of spending time with David, who entertained me with interesting facts about the race track and his personal story.
“Keeneland is unique. All you have to do is go to other racetracks to appreciate the tradition and beauty of Keeneland and the priority of the horse.”-David Dean
Keeneland is made up of three tracks. There is the 1/16 dirt oval track and the 7 and a half furlong turf oval track where the races are held. But did you know there is a third track? It’s the training track which is an all weather surface and five furlongs. The main track opens March 15th for training and preparation of the April meet.
The training track is more like a diamond than an oval. It has a man made all weather footing that the horses can train on all year round because it doesn’t freeze.
Keeneland started as 147 acres in 1935 and today is over 1,000 acres.
The tradition that exists here is unparalleled. There’s just no other place like it.David Dean, Keeneland Tour Guide
Keeneland has 46 barns which encompass 1600 stalls. The Rice Road barn can hold an additional 400 horses. These barns are open year round for horses to be trained.
When you see the horses being exercised on the track, look at the saddle pads they will most likely be marked with the trainers name.
All horses have to vacate the main barns by August 1st, but can train at Keeneland all summer long. August 1st starts preparation and grounds for the September sale. In 2019 Keeneland cataloged over 4500 horses to be sold in 13 days. While not all of those horses were sold, a significant number are. The reason they aren’t sold is because some are withdrawn or they won’t meet their reserve.
Keeneland was built before the airport.
The sales pavilion is the premier thoroughbred auction house in the world. There have been more grade one group one champions go through the sales arena than all others in North America. (P.S. The Kentucky Derby is a grade one race.) There is an international flair of buyers from Japan, Korea, Europe, Australia, Dubai, United Arab Emerates, Saudia Arabia and all over the US.
It’s all because the best breeding farms are here. What makes Keeneland special? Tradition for one. It’s also located halfway between American Pharaoh and Justify out at Coolmore. It sits right in the middle of the best stallions, breeding farms, brood mares, vet clinics, farriers….everything.David Dean
Keeneland is philanthropic and donates the grounds and security for 5k races on a regular basis. There is a race almost every weekend in the summer. It is a closed course which means runners don’t have to worry about traffic and it’s absolutely beautiful.
Fun Facts About David
David has been at Keeneland since 2014. He currently lives in Woodford County on a 15 acre farm and has pleasure horses. He grew up in Cincinnati and moved to the area when he was 12. His dad brought him to Keeneland in 1970, so he’s been hanging around Keeneland for 50 years.
A couple years ago, some of his friends from high school were visiting and he ran into them in the track kitchen where they were having breakfast. He took them on an impromptu tour. The group entered the sales pavilion and there stood Bob Baffert talking to Arthur Hancock of Stone Farm. He was super and took a photo with this group of guys. They had all kinds of questions and he was super cordial in speaking with them. It was the hit of the weekend for a lot of these guys who were visiting from out of town.
He remembers working the yearling sales back in the 70s when George Steinbrenner of the Yankees was at Keeneland and Robert Sangster walked in with Mick Jaggers wife one day. Robert was a big buyer back in the 70s and brought her to see a sale.
His #1 enjoyment currently is a gentleman by the name of James E. Bassett III. He is 98 and was president of Keeneland for a number of years, starting in 1970. He was head of Breeders Cup and he goes and has breakfast most mornings in the track kitchen at 9:30. He was a marine during WWII and went to Yale. (Hint: His book is in the gift shop. If you want to learn something about Keeneland, read that book!). He’s an icon, absolutely amazing. He has stories that go way back….whether he’s walking through the paddocks with Elizabeth Taylor, Queen Elizabeth, George Bush or Waylon Jennings. His stories just go on and on and….