Race time in the Bluegrass: Keeneland Fall Meet 2021 opens


Patrons hold up phones and watch as horses cross the finish line in an undercard race during the opening day of Keeneland’s Fall Meet in Lexington, Kentucky, on Oct. 8, 2021.

Sophia Shoemaker

Visiting Keeneland in the fall has been a Lexington tradition for years. After last fall’s meet had limited participants due to the COVID-19 pandemic, visitors were ready to return to a sense of normalcy at the beloved horse racing track.

Keeneland’s Fall Race Meet opened on Friday, Oct. 8. The facility was planning to run at full capacity back in July, but Keeneland more recently announced that it would be capped at 20,000 participants. General admission tickets were sold out by the beginning of the week. 

“I try to come back for a game and a day at the races every year, but of course I missed opening day last year,” said University of Kentucky alumnus John Hendrick, who visited Lexington for the weekend for Saturday’s football game against LSU and the Keeneland Fall Meet. “The time away made all the difference, and I am excited to be back in this environment. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.” 

Despite COVID-19 still being a threat and opening day tickets being sold out, guests were not required to wear masks, including while indoors. 

The meet drew horse racing fans from not only Kentucky but all over the country. Many fans from Louisiana that had travelled for Saturday’s football game flooded the track in their best purple and gold attire.

“I have been to Evangeline Downs back home in Louisiana, but it doesn’t hold a candle to this place. I am so amazed by the scale of this,” LSU fan Brenda Gremillion said, who visited Keeneland for the first time on Friday.

Like many Lexington traditions, the Keeneland Fall Meet is an event that some UK students got to experience for the first time as they are becoming familiar with the culture of Lexington. Lily Wood, a sophomore from New Jersey, was able to score a general admission ticket before they sold out so that she could be a part of the opening day experience.

“I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this,” Wood said. “There are so many people, and everyone is so excited to be here placing bets and watching the races. It is just a really cool atmosphere.”

General admission tickets were also sold out on Sunday, Oct. 10, and Saturday, Oct. 16, making this Fall Meet a busy one after the limited capacity races in the fall of last year.

The tradition of Keeneland is a strong one. It has survived in the face of adversity that is the COVID-19 pandemic, and many credit that survival to the guests at the race track. George Miller, a Keeneland employee for seven years, said Keeneland’s patrons bring him back every season.

“People come from all over the country to see this happen twice a year. There is nothing like it,” Miller said. “You know what they say: there’s no place like home, and Keeneland is mine.” 

Keeneland is open for the fall meet Oct. 8 to Oct. 30, holding races Wednesday through Sunday. The opening day for the spring meet is April 2, and it closes April 23. General admission tickets for the fall can be purchased online or at the venue for $7.