Even though I grew up not much further than four hours down the road from Lexington, this past weekend was my first time to visit the horse capital of the world. And what better time to traipse through thoroughbred country than opening weekend at Keeneland?
Truth be told, while I am of Southern lineage—although I’m not quite sure I could consider myself a Southern “lady”—I’ve never been to a serious race. I’ve been to Steeplechase in Nashville and other such smaller events, but not to the big dogs. And though I don’t have much to base it on, I still think Keeneland with all its pomp and circumstance is the perfect place for a newbie like me to get a taste of the racing world.
We drove up from Nashville on Friday morning through torrential downpours that began midway up I-65; we later arrived in Lexington just after lunch to find it under water, in many cases, quite literally.
Our trip out to Woodford Reserve, just down the road from Lexington in Versailles, was waylaid when the road out that way was flooded and the distillery had to cancel all its tours for the afternoon. In fact, Lexington racked up more than eight inches of rain on Friday alone and had to postpone the afternoon races for the first time in the near 80-year history of the event!
No worries, though; we’re easy, adaptable travelers and were just happy getting to see some gorgeous countryside nevertheless and meet some horses. Plus, we’d already experienced Woodford once before (though I’d gladly go back for a second time).
Instead, our valiant guide Bryan asked us what distilleries we hadn’t been to. And when I told him Buffalo Trace, he forded the new artificial rivers and lakes and made it back to the main road to take us on into Frankfort so we could do just that.
I’ve done all the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail, and I’d have to say that Buffalo Trace, while not officially on the trail, has the best tour of them all. Our tour guide Freddie charmed the pants off of us, and then we got to taste not one, not two, but three different kinds of bourbon. Did you know, in fact, that Buffalo Trace makes Blanton’s and also Pappy Van Winkle? Yeah, me neither.
We missed the first part of the tour but got to see the bottling room, where these fancy stoppers—each one with a different letter (B, L, A, N, T, O, N or S)—corked the bottles of bourbon.
Then, it was off to the gift shop and tasting room, where the bourbon cream with a splash of root beer wound up being my favorite (no surprise there).
After we’d “warmed” up at Buffalo Trace, we had an important stop to make that afternoon: We were going to the 2,200-acre WinStar Farms, one of the participants in October’s big Breeder’s Cup—the Super Bowl of the horse racing world—and host of the big opening night sponsor/owner party, to meet some of the residents.
Because it was raining, we were in for a treat. The stallions weren’t out in the pasture, so we got to meet quite a few famous fellas, like Tiznow, Speightstown and Distorted Humor, where we wooed them with peppermints. I’ve never seen an animal get so excited for a tiny piece of candy before, but they all started going wild the moment they heard those wrappers rattling.
Did you know that some stallions can command as much as $125,000 for a stud fee? Factor in that they often stud more than 120 times a year, and that’s some nice pocket change right there.
That night, SVV and I dined in downtown Lex with Bryan and his wife Melinda at Dudley’s on Short, where we tasted our way through the menu before heading next around the corner to Belle’s, a speakeasy-style restaurant with a killer bourbon selection that even had a 23-year-old Pappy reserve on tap.
Then, it was off to bed as we had an early wake-up call the following morning to head to the track…