Keeneland is the best.
‘Don’t get me wrong, I freaking love Churchill Downs and the Derby but the spring and fall meets at Keeneland are truly something special. It’s horse racing as it was intended to be and I love it. When I was in college at UK, the first Friday of the Spring Meet was like a city-wide holiday. If you had class, you blew it off (but why would you have class on Friday?); if you had work, you took a vacation day. Nothing felt more like the start of the season than the first warm, sunny day at Keeneland. And yes, I realize I just waxed poetic for entirely too long and got seriously nostalgic but that’s what Keeneland will do to you.
Keeneland’s Spring Meet kicks off this Friday April 8th and runs through April 29th and I’m already mentally planning a trip to Lexington for the fall meet when I’ll be able to fully-enjoy everything Keeneland has to offer. If you’re taking a day trip to Lexington this month (if you’re not, make plans to NOW – get your tickets here) or if you’ve never been to Keeneland, here’s a few tips to make the most of your day.
* Get there early. One of the best parts of a day at Keeneland is the tailgating. Get there early to snag a good parking spot, set up your spread and take advantage of the sun while sipping on a mimosa. Ladies, that means setting your alarm clock a little earlier than normal to get dolled up but I promise, it will be worth it.
Tailgating is a big part of the Keeneland experience and if you get there too late you’ll have to park farther away. And since you’re going to be doing a little tailgating you’re going to want to ….
* Pack a cooler, a couple chairs and a corn hole board. Bring whatever you and your crew like to sip on (I know everyone in Kentucky is supposed to say bourbon but I’m partial to champagne for an AM cocktail), some snacks and a couple chairs. And if you have a corn hole board, bring it. Or if you prefer can jam, that works too.
If you want to go all out – and some people definitely do – you can bring out an entire brunch spread (aka all the appetizers and dips). But if nothing else, bring the basics and you’ll be set. Oh and don’t forget some cups. If you opt to leave the food behind, their tailgate area known as “The Hill” has you covered with some awesome food trucks and live music.
* Bring Cash.
Run by the bank on your way into the track so you’re ready to go the minute you get to Keeneland. They have plenty of ATM’s at Keeneland but you wouldn’t want to miss a race because you had to run off to get out money. You’ll also want to bring cash so you can easily grab a snack or Bloody Mary.
You’re going to want to do a little betting, even if you have no idea what a superfecta is or how to read the program. Picking a winner and cheering them on is a big part of the fun and you’ll need cash to make your wager. Want to do a little preparation on how to make a wager? Check out this handy guide here or better yet, download the Keeneland Race Day App. With the app, you can plan out all your bets and have them all ready to go when you get up to the window. This eliminates all that betting anxiety that you can get while waiting in line.
* See the Entire Track. Keeneland is a gorgeous race track and even though it’s obviously seen updates and changes since it opened in 1936, it still retains that feel of southern charm and history. If it’s your first time, don’t get stuck in one area. Wander around from the paddock, to the track, grab a drink upstairs and watch a race from the view at the edge of the boxes.
It’s a beautiful place and every corner has a little piece of history. And if you can get lucky enough to get clubhouse tickets, don’t stay in its friendly confines the whole day (but you’re definitely going to have lines in there for the bathrooms, bar, food and of course, bets). Make sure to venture out at least once to see the paddock.
* Dress to Impress. A Day at Keeneland is truly a fashion event. Just like people used to get dressed up for airline travel, people used to get dressed up for the races. The trend may have died everywhere else but at Keeneland it still holds true. Even if you’re just buying a general admission ticket, you’re going to want to look good.
For the ladies, that can be anything from a preppy sundress to chic wide-leg pants and a fitted shell to a pencil skirt and blouse. Think in the style of Easter brunch or a wedding shower.
Take a cue from these looks styled straight from the Keeneland Shop with the help of my friend Lauren (had to call in the reserves at this point!) – if you’re not quite sure what to wear you can get any of these looks before you head out to the track. But if you’ve already got your dress picked out make sure to stop in during your trip if for no other reason than to drool over all of their Longchamp goodies. They have one of the best selections in the region of Longchamp (this bag is SWOON WORTHY – I wanted to keep it SO bad), Sail to Sable, Vineyard Vines and Peter Millar.
Guys can also do a last minute swap out on their tie if they want some thing especially festive. If you’re on the hunt for a hat for the big race, you can also see milliner Christine A. Moore’s pieces first hand at their Milliners Corner.
Last but not least, if you’ve been on the hunt for a Barbour jacket but couldn’t find anywhere to check one out in person – stop in. They’ve got a ton of options. You can grab one and pick it on your way out to the car.
One last tip – wear comfortable shoes, especially if you have a general admission ticket (aka no seat). You’re going to be doing a lot of mingling, walking around and standing so you want shoes that will last you throughout the day. You might even want to slip a pair of flip-flops in your bag for the walk back to the car.
The Keeneland Spring Meet runs April 8 – 29th and there are events all throughout the month – including College Scholarship Day this Friday to Military Appreciation Day on April 24th – check out the calendar for a full round up of events.
Most importantly, have the best time. Even when Keeneland is rainy and cold (that usually only happens on the late October race days – so don’t worry), it’s one of my favorite places so if you get a sunny day make sure to soak up all the good times – oh and have a hot dog and beer for me!
Disclosure: Big thanks to the Keeneland for sponsoring this post. As always all thoughts, opinions and ramblings are my own.