Column: Visiting Keeneland, Claiborne Farms

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In our second day in Lexington, Ky., we visit two of the world’s most famous thoroughbred racing establishments.

As we noted last week, in the first half of the 19th century, Henry Clay raised champion thoroughbred horses on his Ashland estate outside Lexington. Lexington recognizes horse racing’s debt to Clay in the Ashland Stakes, run annually at the Keeneland racecourse, opened in 1936 by Jack Keene, son of a wealthy thoroughbred owner. Each year since, Keeneland has hosted some of the nation’s most memorable races and has become one of the U.S.’s most recognizable racing venues. Keeneland hosted Queen Elizabeth in 1984, and most of the scenes of the movie “Seabiscuit” were filmed there.

Keeneland is also famous for the four auctions it holds each year, where owners from around the world bid millions of dollars on horses they hope will become champions. Many of those champions have been bred or raised at Lexington’s Claiborne Farms, established near Lexington in 1910. Its owner imported breeding stock from Europe and quickly became among the nation’s most successful horse breeders. Claiborne Farms stallions and their progeny have won 22 Kentucky Derbies, 20 Preaknesses and 22 Belmont Stakes. Twenty-two members of racing’s Hall of Fame have been foaled and/or raised at Claiborne Farms. Secretariat, the famous 1973 Triple Crown winner who stood stud at Claiborne Farms, is buried there.

Keeneland and Claiborne Farms offer guided tours of their facilities. The Keeneland tour allows visitors to get close to the track, where hopefuls often work out. The Claiborne Farms tour includes a visit to the stallion barns and breeding shed, where mares are bred with Claiborne Farms’ stallions, with a fee of up to $100,000 or more for a 10-minute encounter.

Today, Lexington is the unquestioned center of the thoroughbred industry in the United States, with hundreds of horse farms.   

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