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The Bluegrass tradition continues as Keeneland kicks off fall season

Abbey Cutrer
Crowds fill the benches close to the track on the opening day of the Fall Meet on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023, at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | Staff

Racing fans, horses and jockeys gathered last Friday as the ceremonial bugle sounded the beginning of Keeneland’s 2023 Fall Meet.

Between attendees dressing up in florals and pastel colors, the greenery scattered throughout the grounds, betting, horses and a variety of concessions, fans have many aspects of Keeneland to explore during their time at the grandstand.

For some fans, it was their first time attending the races, but others have said they have been returners for decades.

Will Martin has been coming to Keeneland for about 45 years.

“I’m in my 60s and I’ve been coming here since I was in my teens,” Martin said.

When he was in his 20s and 30s, Martin said he worked at Keeneland in the dining rooms and was later promoted to work in the corporate suites. 

During his time working at Keeneland, he said he got to interact with horse trainers, the governor of Kentucky and the University of Kentucky president among other prominent figures who made their way to the races.

Martin said he became friendly with a prominent owner and breeder of thoroughbred horses, Marylou Whitney. 

“One day I was up in the corporate suites, Marylou was up there with Phillis George, who is a former Kentucky first lady and was Miss America,” he said. “They were all having a good time up in the corporate suites and they were all skipping down the hall.”

According to Martin, memories such as these are what have brought him back to Keeneland time and time again over the years.

Now, he comes to Keeneland about five or six times a year as a fan.

Keeneland newcomers also made the trip to the Bluegrass for opening day.

Erica Colee was in attendance with her aunt, Patty Dressen, and her cousin, Carly Dressen. Colee traveled from Illinois to Lexington for the races, and the Dressens traveled from North Carolina.

“My parents and my aunt and uncle came last year with another couple. This year they were coming back so my cousin Carly and I joined the trip,” Colee said.

Colee said she was ecstatic to “see the whole picture” up close for the first time.

“Seeing it on TV is one thing, but going and seeing the grandstand, it’s so much bigger than I thought it was,” Colee said. “Seeing the horses up close, it’s just beautiful here; nothing like the horses in Illinois.”

Some opening day attendees, whether they’ve been to Keeneland before or not, said they had a fondness for the horseracing atmosphere.

“I like coming to opening day just to feel the culture here,” Martin said. 

According to Kevin Dunley, a guest service team member, more commonly referred to as a greencoat, Keeneland is one of the best places for horse racing. 

Dunley said that he travels from Baltimore for the races, he used to come here as a fan years ago.

“It’s a great place to be, a great environment. The fans are great, my colleagues are great, the horses are great,” Dunley said. 

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Casey Sebastiano, News Editor
Abbey Cutrer, Managing/Photo Editor

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