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For more information, contact the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-845-3959.

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Kentucky’s Bluegrass Country
Lexington’s heritage combines everything from thoroughbred racing to winning basketball

Published: May/Jun 2002
By Sarah Reinke

Thoroughbred horses, such as this mare and foal are synonymous with Lexington, Ky./ James Archambeault-Lexington CVB photo
Like thoroughbreds coming down the stretch, Lexington and Louisville often run neck-and-neck in the race to be Kentucky’s largest city. Lexington, the largest in population according to census figures, is a beautiful city, combining the hectic pace of an urban environment with the slow, comfortable pace of a small town.

I have lived in both of Kentucky’s largest cities and am frequently asked which one I prefer. The comparison is no different than attempting to find common traits between apples and asparagus.

I love living in Louisville. However, I also loved living in Lexington. My fondness for each city is dependent on their differences, not their similarities.

Louisville is known as home of the Kentucky Derby–the 128th running will be May 4–and Churchill Downs. However, Lexington, with its magnificent fields of bluegrass stretching toward the horizon and miles of white fencing marking the edges of multimillion-dollar thoroughbred farms, is truly the horse capital of the state.

A winning history

Thoroughbred racing has been a part of Lexington’s lifeblood since the late 1700s. Today, equine enthusiasts can enjoy a day at the races or visit museums, memorials and galleries dedicated to the industry’s legacy.

Horse Farm Tours, Inc., offers guided tours of Lexington’s premier horse farms, and participants are entertained with stories about the racing industry in Lexington. Tours cost $24; reservations required. Call (859) 268-2906.

Prefer self-guided tours to sightseeing? Be sure to make one of the first stops The Thoroughbred Center (formerly Kentucky Horse Center), 3380 Paris Pike. The center, now owned by Keeneland Race Course, is considered the largest thoroughbred training facility accessible to the public. Make shop talk with trainers and watch as racing champions in the making are put through their paces. A 90-minute guided tour also is available; the cost for adults, $10, and $5 for children 12 and younger. For more information call (859) 293-1853.

Next, a visit to the Kentucky Horse Park off Interstate 75 (exit 120), is essential to a complete Lexington visit. The facility, which sits on more than 1,200 acres, educates as well as entertains. Take a horse-drawn or walking tour. Other attractions include the International Museum of the Horse, the Man o’ War Memorial (burial site of this world-renowned champion racehorse), the daily Parade of Breeds Show, the Hall of Champions presentation, and a short film presentation. Horse, pony and surrey rides are available for an additional fee. Admission is $12 for adults, $9 for students and $6.50 for children 7–12. AAA members receive $1 off the adult price. Call 1-800-568-8813.

The American Saddlebred Museum is located on the campus of Kentucky Horse Park. The Saddlebred is the oldest registered American breed of horse, as well as Kentucky’s native breed. The museum honors the heritage of this noble animal with a multi-image film display and other exhibits. Admission is included with fare into the Horse Park. For more information, call (859) 259-2746 or 1-800-829-4438.

Now that you’ve learned all about the legacy of horse breeding and racing in Lexington, it’s time you went and enjoyed some of the action firsthand.

Keeneland Race Course, six miles west of Lexington on U.S. Highway 60, offers thoroughbred racing action April 5–26 and Oct. 4–26. Thoroughbred sales also are conducted throughout the year at Keeneland. There also is a library on site, housing research and reference material pertaining to the thoroughbred industry. For more information, call (859) 254-3412, or 1-800-456-3412.

The Red Mile Harness Track, 1200 Red Mile Road, offers races during the spring (May 9–June 29) and fall (Sept. 2–17) seasons. The Grand Circuit Meet will be Sept. 20–Oct. 4. The number of records set at the Red Mile have earned it a reputation as one of the fastest racetracks in the world. Visitors also can watch morning practices at the facility. Call (859) 255-0752 for hours and days of operation.

Best of both words

Downtown Lexington combines the rich heritage of both the old and the new. Its Main Street district combines Victorian storefronts with high-rise luxury hotels. The Civic Center Shops and Victorian Square offer a variety of shopping indulgences, while framing the scenic fountains of Triangle Park. In the Main Street district you will also find unique restaurants, historic attractions and museums for the entire family.

The Mary Todd Lincoln House, 578 W. Main St., was the childhood home of President Abraham Lincoln’s wife. The restored Georgian home, circa 1803, features period furniture, personal items of the Lincoln-Todd families and a delightful garden. Admission is $7 for adults and $4 for children 6–12. AAA members receive $1 off adult admission. For more information, call (859) 233-9999.

The Lexington Children’s Museum, 440 W. Short St., in the Victorian Square development, offers hands-on exhibits and interactive displays covering science, nature, history, civics and ecology. Admission is $4. Children younger than one year of age are admitted free. For more information, call (859) 258-3256.

Lexington is synonymous with the University of Kentucky–the city’s largest employer–and the university is synonymous with basketball. Seven-time NCAA champions, the Wildcats, play at Rupp Arena, 430 W. Vine St. Contact the University of Kentucky ticket office, (859) 257-1818 for more information.

Lexington is home to another university as well–this one reputed to be the oldest college west of the Allegheny Mountains. Nestled in the heart of downtown Lexington, between Third and Fourth streets, historic Transylvania University offers guided and self-guided campus tours. Call the university’s public relations office, (859) 233-8120.

Other historic points of interest include Henry Clay’s estate home, Ashland; the Headley-Whitney Museum with its exquisite collection of jeweled sculptures, Chinese porcelain and textiles, metal art and more; and the Hunt-Morgan House, which served as home to Confederate hero John Hunt Morgan and Nobel Prize winner Thomas Hunt Morgan.

The story of Bluegrass Country is a tale of two cities, and Lexington will not disappoint.

Sara Reinke is associate regional editor of AAA Kentucky’s Home and Away magazine.

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