Why You Should Visit Lexington, Kentucky

Lexington is seen as horse country for a reason – they’re everywhere including the street signs. But Lexington is more than just horses!

For the horse lover Lexington is horse heaven. There’s Keeneland where some of the premier horses in the world are sold at multi-day sales to the famous and not so famous new owners. Keeneland also has racing at other points in the year, where young horses learn what it takes to be a race horse. Next door to Keeneland is a farm that it can safely be said helped change the world of racing – Calumet Farm. With a history marred by the death of the great Thoroughbred Alydar and the negative aspects of money and greed it’s sometimes forgotten that in Calumet’s glory years they produced and raced great horses like Whirlaway and Citation.

Keeneland is a name in the Thoroughbred world synonymous with quality. The yearling sales and winter mixed sales it’s not unusual to see hundreds of thousands and a million or more change hands on a single horse. Thoroughbred sales are held five times yearly with two-year olds selling in April, yearlings selling in July and September, breeding stock in November, and horses of all ages in January. There are plenty of less expensive horses to balance out the million dollar babies for those interested in getting a piece of the Thoroughbred pie.

One not-to-be-missed point for horse lovers is the world famous Kentucky Horse Park. A museum, gift shop, barn of breeds and world class events such as Rolex are held at the Park. The Champion Barn is home to world renowned Thoroughbreds Da Hoss, Cigar and John Henry are retired here. Champion pacers (Standardbreds) Staying Together and Western Dreamer as well as World Champion American Saddlebred Gypsy Supreme and World Champion running Quarter horse Tailor Fit. A common thread – besides the excellence they showed in their respective careers – is all but Cigar are geldings. Once retired there is no breeding career for them – here they live out their lives with the honor and respect they deserve. The Memorial walk of Champions salutes former residents who are no longer here – champion Saddlebreds Skywatch and Imperator, quarter horse standout Sgt. Pepper Feature, Thoroughbred champions Bold Forbes and Forego and Standardbred champions Cam Fella and Rambling Willie. There is also obvious tribute in the park to two of the greatest Thoroughbreds in history – Man O War and Secretariat. Many breeds are housed in the big barn and there’s a special draft barn for the big horses that pull the carriages. You might catch a three day event or carriage driving or a polo match as these are but a few of the activities that happen at the Park. Wear comfortable footwear – the Park sits on 1,200 acres of Kentucky landscape.

You can see breeds from the common to the not so common in the barn…learn about the horse in history….shop for horse related gift items and much more in one stop. Allow yourself the day – if you want to see everything two days! There is much to see here and even on a full day it we didn’t see everything. Spread over 1,200 acres it is definitely on the must-visit list for horse lovers. The International Museum Of The Horse features an art gallery and several special exhibits – currently running a juried art show through October.

There are well over 150 horse farms in near proximity to Lexington – but as they are working farms you should never just “drop by.” Many welcome visitors but due to the nature of horses and the activities of a farm there are some times visitors would not be a good idea – for example when breeding stallions in the spring. Farms are not limited to just Thoroughbreds – there’s also farms for American Saddlebreds, Hackneys, Standardbreds, Morgans and other breeds.

Claiborne Farm near Paris has long been one of the biggest names in the world of Thoroughbred horses. Laid to rest here are horses as well known as Bold Ruler, Princequillo, Easy Goer, Secretariat, Mr Prospector, Unbridled are but a few. Champion Personal Ensign was recently pensioned at the farm to live out her life as just a horse – at 22 her days as a broodmare are behind her as much as her days of racing but she will remain at the farm where she was born.
Gainesway Farm is another farm with names that are recognized far and wide – for those who remember seeing Afleet Alex’s amazing run in the Preakness and the story behind him he is here as well as Birdstone, Cozzene and Ten Most Wanted are just a few of the horses now at Gainesway. Not far away at Three Chimneys is the horse Birdstone prevented from getting his Triple Crown – Smarty Jones. Near Versailles is Lanes End – and more top class Thoroughbreds now retired from racing and making their way producing offspring. Lanes End is home to A.P.Indy who commands a $300,000 stud fee as a son of Seattle Slew out of a daughter of Secretariat – a close link to two of the greatest horses the breed has known. The Lanes End roster also includes many horses known around the world and respected in the industry.

If Thoroughbreds and racing isn’t your thing make an appointment to see one of the farms richest in non-Thoroughbred horse history in the Lexington area. Kalarama Stud holds their own in winning history – their American Saddlebred Harlem Globetrotter won Kentucky State Fair World’s Championship Horse Show Five Gaited Stallion title before being retired to stud and siring more than 50 offspring that have topped the World Show classes. The farm was well established in Saddlebreds when they produced a horse who became a household name in show horses – Kalarama Rex. In the 1930s he became well known – then the barn was destroyed by fire in 1936. Hit hard in World War II a dispersal was planned – but Kalarama Rex died before it happened. Topping the sale was a horse who would have a huge impact on the breed – Society Rex. The farm has survived despite serious setbacks.
Heart To Heart is another American Saddlebred farm in the area with quality horses. For other horse related sites The Red Mile, the oldest race track in Kentucky, is worth a stop. Standardbreds – trotters and pacers – shine here and quarter horses are raced as well.

Two other horse sales are well known in the Lexington area – Tattersalls and Fasig-Tipton have sales throughout the year.

If you have the idea Lexington breathes horses you’re right. History, horses and agriculture abound. But if you don’t care for the “horsey” things don’t overlook Lexington and the surrounding area!

History buffs – set off to explore the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill – a living history museum where you can see artisans working on various things as well as historical farming. Dominique chickens, milking shorthorn cattle and Leicester sheep are but a few of the endangered breeds of livestock kept here. Percheron horses and oxen are used instead of tractors.

For even more history set out for Harrodsburg – the first permanent English settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. Pre-Civil War homes and a full-scale replica of the original fort stand in the area. Perryville Battlefield is the site of Kentucky’s most important Civil War battle, which marked a fatal loss of the initiative for the South.
Take in a basketball game or broadway show or other event at the Lexington Center…or look for another wide variety of events at Rupp Arena. Want to shop? Check out the Fayette Mall. The Arboretum offers walking and jogging paths through trees and plants.

Of course there’s always sooner or later a need for food and there’s places to go for that too. John Michael’s Hometown Bar & Grill on the edge of Nicholasville – steaks, chicken, frog legs, fish, grilled vegetables, desserts are just a few of the things to tempt hungry visitors. Look for the red, neon-lighted guitar towering above the restaurant – and come hungry. You never know what might happen during your visit – the music theme is beyond decoration – it’s an extension. Songs like “I Love the Way You Love Me”, “I Swear” and “Letters From Home” are just a few that have come from the owner of the grill, John Michael Montgomery.

Horses aren’t the only famous names coming out of the Lexington area. Besides John Michael Montgomery there are many others who have ties to the area. Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry formed the duo Montgomery Gentry and in 2000 was named the Country Music Association’s vocal duo of the year. In sports Steve Cauthen became youngest jockey to win the Triple Crown on Affirmed in 1978 and farmer, poet, novelist, essayist, and teacher, Wendell Berry further call Kentucky home. There are many more who have risen to fame and call the bluegrass country home.

While you’re in the Lexington area one thing not on the map or tourist guides or websites is the people. The caliber of horses is often mentioned but not so much the caliber of people. It’s true that there’s good and bad everywhere but there are some of the best people calling this area home. They’re willing to give a hand up, not a hand out – even to strangers. They’re good people – look for the smaller out of the way places as well as those mentioned here – go walk through the towns and check out the little cafes and shops and meet the people who make this area special. In 25 years of trips to the area there’s not been one time there wasn’t SOMETHING special that happened – even the trip a little misfortune happened. Suffice to say I’m glad it was Lexington and not one of several other cities! Many plan trips to the big cities and the coasts – ignoring completely “flyover country”. Plan a trip to Lexington and make some memories!

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