Bourbon and bread pudding: The Keeneland tradition continues


Horses race during the first day of the Spring Meet on Friday, April 8, 2022, at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Sophia Shoemaker

The Keeneland Spring Meet began this year on April 8. Now, a few weeks later, ticket sales are still up, bets are being placed and the Lexington tradition remains alive and well. 

The racecourse has been open for nearly a century and is a Lexington institution. According to the Kentucky Historical Society, more than 8,000 people attended the first race on Oct. 15, 1936. In 2019, the first two Saturdays of the Spring Meet attracted crowds of over 34,000 people.

“People associate Lexington with Keeneland, and vice versa,” Keeneland employee Harry Miller said.

The first two Saturdays of this year’s Spring Meet, general admission tickets were sold out. Despite cold and rainy weather, hundreds of people from all over the country flocked to the famous racecourse. 

“The state is the epicenter for thoroughbred breeding, racing and sales worldwide. Keeneland is a place where we [Kentucky] can showcase not only the impact we’ve had on the sport and the industry, but the culture which has developed from the love of thoroughbreds in our small corner of the world,” said Marc Wampler, owner of racing partnership company Pocket Aces Racing. 

Lexington families have been visiting Keeneland for years. Miller, who has worked for the racecourse for 12 years, said the Spring Meet is a rite of passage for some families. 

“The first Saturday and the first Sunday, they put Grandma in the car, load up the kids and all come to Keeneland,” he said. “They’ve been doing it for years.”

Among the crowd of families, owners and gamblers, many UK students visit the track each year. 

“Whether you have lived in Lexington your whole life or you have never been to Keeneland, it’s important to experience what makes your community special,” said Wampler said. “A student hasn’t gotten the full college experience UK has to offer without a trip to Keeneland.” 

Because of COVID-19, this is the first time Keeneland has held the Spring Meet at full capacity since 2019. Some students missed their first chance to visit the racecourse due to the limited ticket sales.

“My buddies and I are going to Keeneland for the first time this weekend,” sophomore John Dougherty said. “We tried to go last year but tickets were pretty hard to come by, so we’re excited to finally go and see what all the hype is about.”

Junior Charles Scopetto visited the racecourse for the first time on Friday, despite living in Lexington for a few years now.

“We don’t have anything like this where I’m from, so this is really cool,” Scopetto said. “I’m placing bets, watching the races, just trying to get the full experience.”

Unlike Scopetto, some students have been visiting Keeneland years before they came to UK. 

“I’m from Lexington, so I’ve been visiting the racecourse for as long as I can remember,” freshman Emme Goodman said. “Except now, instead of coming to Keeneland with my family, I come with my sorority sisters.” 

Many employees, owners and spectators would agree that one of the best parts about the course is the people. 

“Keeneland is such an enjoyable environment,” employee Mary Hynous said. “I love the clientele and seeing people come back meet after meet.”

The Spring Meet will continue through April 29, with no races on Mondays or Tuesdays. General admission tickets can be bought on the Keeneland website or at the gate for $7. The course will also be open on May 7 for Derby Day, complete with live music, a hat contest and food vendors.