Keeneland my photos, my words

There’s nothing better than spending a sunny day at the races.

It has beauty and color, with magnificent thoroughbreds in the paddock or on the track and jockeys wearing bright silks. It has excitement and drama, watching the horses fly toward the finish line in hopes that your horse arrives first. It has the thrill of victory (cashing a winning ticket) and the agony of defeat (throwing away a losing ticket). There’s food. There’s drink.

Longtime Keeneland bugler Bucky Sallee plays Call to the Post in this 2009 photo. Sallee died in 2016.

It’s all part of a recipe for a fun day.

Before the COVID pandemic my wife and I visited Keeneland, the historic race track in Lexington, Ky., twice a year to enjoy some racing. It was also an opportunity for me to grab some new racing photos (the track is very camera friendly). The track opens for racing for three weeks in April and three weeks in October. A trip to Keeneland is a tradition in Kentucky.

Stretch run, opening day, 2008 spring meet at Keeneland, Lexington, Ky.

But COVID stopped that in 2020. The spring and fall meets still happened, but without spectators.

The 2021 spring meet allowed a limited number of spectators, but all tickets had to be purchased in advance. Before COVID, Keeneland’s daily attendance could vary depending on the weather, with huge walk-up crowds buying tickets at the gate when the weather was nice.

Horses walk through the barns on the way to morning workouts at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.

The 2021 fall meet, which begins Oct. 8, is expected to be somewhat back to normal. The track will be at full capacity, but spectators are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance. I have no idea what is considered “full capacity” at Keeneland. Average daily attendance during a normal meet will be around 16,000, although 35,000 people or more have come through the gates on nice days with major stakes races.

Almost 25,000 spectators watch the start of the third race, Keeneland spring 2010 opening day, Lexington, Ky.

When I’m photographing at Keeneland or any other track I usually try to get traditional racing action photos — close-ups of the horses battling down the stretch, etc. But I also try to get some photos in the paddock, where horses warm up and are saddled before the race, and some non-traditional photos.

I’ve spent spring and fall days at Keeneland for years. My father took me when I was younger. I took him as he got older. And my wife and I go every spring and every fall, spending a day at the track and a few days with friends on each trip.

Horses run down the stretch during a morning workout at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.

Keeneland has hosted races since it opened in 1936. It’s one of the nation’s most “traditional” race tracks, retaining the same look and feel through the years while still adopting new technologies (even though it was the last race track in North America to broadcast race calls over a public-address system, adopting that practice in 1997). Keeneland was used for most of the racing scenes in the 2003 movie Seabiscuit because its appearance has changed little in decades.

Keeneland is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986. In 2009, Keeneland was ranked as the number one track in America by the Horseplayers Association of North America.

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Created By
Pat Hemlepp


All photos and text © Pat D. Hemlepp. All rights reserved.