Thursday, August 12, 2010

Lexington, KY - Horse central

Lexington and thoroughbreds go together like bourbon and branch (that's the purest of water in Southern speak). From the horse farms that line every road and the idyllic Keeneland Race Course to the tasteful horse- and dog-themed merchandise that fills L. V. Harkness & Co (not to mention the most extensive and glorious collection of china tableware I've ever seen), you are never far from the real thing or its image.

I visited two Thoroughbred farms and passed by dozens on my visit, spent a delightful afternoon trying to pick winners at Keeneland, plus took a fascinating tour of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, the horsey equivalent of the Mayo Clinic.

Tip: Thoroughbreds are valuable, so wherever they walk, the surface will be well-groomed, good news for Levelers.

 Darley at Jonabell Farms is home to such famous stallions as Street Cry (sire of Zenyatta) and Medaglia D'Oro (sire of Rachel Alexandra), who were in adjacent pastures the day I visited; Bernardini; Elusive Quality (sire of Smarty Jones) and the gracefully aging Holy Bull.

This is where the last Triple Crown winner Affirmed, bred and owned by Patrice and Lou Wolfson,  stood at stud, died and is buried adjacent to the stallion barn. Most thoroughbred race horses of note have their head and hooves buried and memorialized, but Affirmed was buried in tact, standing up and facing visitors.

Tip: Owned by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, Darley at Jonabell is a showplace and one of the best places for Levelers to tour. You walk on paved surfaces that are relatively flat and the interesting tours are compact. Visitors are welcome by appointment and tours are frequent, 1-859-255-8537.

Keeneland is a gem and, from its opening in 1936, perhaps the only not-for-profit race track you are likely to find. It lives up to its motto, "Racing as it was meant to be."

There is a family atmosphere, inclusive in most areas, hospitably exclusive in a few. The food is good, the surroundings are idyllic - you look across the track to horse farms - and the gift shop is one of the best. There's even a picnic ground for the many who come early, tail gate and make it a full day.

Only drawback: The two racing seasons, spring and fall, are short. Tout Lexington makes it a point to attend at least one day of each, however, and so should you if lucky enough to be in the area at the right time. If not, the public is welcome to watch morning workouts year-round and its track kitchen is famous for cheap, filling and good breakfasts.

Rood & Riddle is a remarkable facility with its 50 vets and staff of 200-plus. The highly sought-after tours of it are eye-openers. Equine medicine has made giant advances. At the most basic level, horse shoes, the array of shoes in its podiatry center almost puts Nordstrom's to shame.
 A very small sample

Tip: Again, flat and smooth for walking but you'll stand a lot. 

Watch surgeries through viewing windows, if you've a stomach for it. I saw one that was eerily similar to human meniscus repair. The sight of a thoroughbred on the operating table and draped for surgery just like a human only immensely larger was unforgettable for this one-time wanna be big animal vet. Tour schedule is irregular so contact them via the web site,

 Good read, great information: Patti Nickell's Horse Lover's Guide to Kentucky.


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