10/07/2012 10:01PM

Visiting The Red Mile and Keeneland

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On Sunday I spent an hour walking the track and barn area of The Red Mile. It was the early morning hours and only grooms and horses adorned the many barns that spread from the middle of the stretch through the far turn.

The Red Mile is what you make of it. It really depends on where you look and what you choose to see.

From the track apron, looking over the red-tinted surface and across the span of the mile oval, you cannot help but be in awe. The track is well manicured and the sight lines are second to none. There are no obstacles or large infield displays. From any vantage point you can watch the horses travel from start to finish; a true pleasure.

The beauty continues off to the side of the grandstand where barn after barn are occupied by some of the top trainers in the sport. Jimmy Takter, Ray Schnittker, Tony Alagna and Erv Miller are some of the names on the plaques in front of each barn.

The stable area makes you think back to what it was like 30 and 40 years ago. I’m told the barn area used to extend much further down onto the current main thoroughfare. Back before the days of constant contact with mobile phone and the internet, the backstretch buzz must have been quite a scene.

The grandstand also makes you look to the past. The aged building which was probably quite a spectacle many moons ago has clearly seen better days. The stands are old and most people spend more time on the track apron, where seating boxes adorn the outer rail and you can smell some wonderful pulled pork and other barbecue delights being slow-cooked to perfection on either side of the grandstand.

The number of betting windows was satisfactory, as I never saw a line with more than four people.  The crowd was quite industry-filled. One would estimate that half of the people who walked through the turnstiles had some working alliance to standardbred racing. However, that allowed the “Everyday Joe” a chance to hobnob with some of racing’s elite.

Building aside, The Red Mile is a wonderful place for racing. The track plays fairly. In an age where speed dominates across the country, the surface at The Red Mile gives each horse a chance. I saw horses close from the back and win on the lead. There was no clear bias.

My lasting impression of The Red Mile is how great the racing is at the Lexington, Kentucky track and what it could be like in the future. Perhaps if the racing industry in Kentucky was able to benefit from casino gambling revenue like so many surrounding states, The Red Mile could truly be transformed into something special. Imagine the same perfect track accompanied by a new state-of-the-art grandstand; a marriage of the old and the new.

A new structure could help bring some special events. What about racing the Breeders Crown each year at The Red Mile? Could there be a better venue to conduct the season-ending series for our sport?

Perhaps the two weeks of Grand Circuit action which typically conclude on the first Sunday in October are followed by Friday and Saturday Breeders Crown elimination cards, with the finals on the third Saturday of the month.

Or, to build hype for the Breeders Crown and give the horses time to recover, maybe there is a week off between the eliminations and the finals.

With all due respect to other tracks which have hosted the Crown, I would love to head out to The Red Mile, make a wager in a brand new grandstand and venture out onto the track apron to watch the action.

I’ll be dreaming about that tonight.

Keeneland steals the show

One thing I noticed is that The Red Mile gets no local attention. When attending the Little Brown Jug in Ohio, the race was a featured attraction in the mainstream media. In Lexington, any chance of getting attention for the major Grand Circuit races seems to be destroyed by the opening weekend of Keeneland just a short drive down the road.

I took a brief trip to Keeneland and could not help but become mesmerized by the scene and the beauty. Right from the start upon arrival I saw a first. Young people were tailgating in the parking lots. I have been to plenty of tracks but never recall seeing busloads of what looked like college students hanging out in preparation for a day at the races.

I walked into the grandstand and immediately noticed two things. One was architecture. Brick pillars gave the place an interesting feel and a similar brick structure which serves as the clubhouse really caught my eye. The second standout feature was the perfectly manicured facilities and the unbelievable miles of gorgeous grass-filled scenery. For a guy born and raised in Brooklyn, it is hard to believe that much grass even exists.

I was lucky enough to run into Howard McKenzie from the Guest Services department. Working his 51st season at Keeneland, McKenzie knew everyone at the track and went out of his way to give me a guided tour. I believe I experienced what Southern Hospitality means.

The excursion included the press box, the announcer’s booth, the video department, and the opportunity to view the 1033 acres of land on which the track resides. The total acreage is more than double Belmont Park, which covers 430 acres.

Simply put, Keeneland may be the most beautiful track I have ever seen (and I’ve been to quite a few). Saratoga has its charm, Del Mar is great, the Delaware County Fairgrounds is a special place, but Keeneland definitely caught my eye.

If you have the time, I highly recommend a trip to Lexington next October to see The Red Mile and Keeneland (and the Kentucky Horse Park is great, too; even for children). Come on a Friday, spend Saturday at Keeneland and Sunday at The Red Mile. You will be glad you did it. I know I am.

 

 

Dennis Leonard More than 1 year ago
Derrick, good seeing you at the Red Mile on Saturday. To the other posters, yes Keeneland structures are limestone (read it in the program I'm no architect), the DQ on Campbell was really stupid, the Red Mile probably should race at night to miss Keeneland but the sale gets in the way (that place Fasig-Tipton is a palace by the way), I think I like the daytime setting better anyways, the horse park was very, very nice, got to see Won the West get inducted into the Hall of Champions. If you like (or love) the game it's a must trip at least once (my second time).
kingsailor2 More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed this column. In 1970's, used to go to Red Mile every night while in college at UK because odds were better than on the T-breds. It was truly beautiful then, without the hotels, etc., around. But at Keeneland--are you sure you aren't referring to 100% Bluegrass limestone, not brick? Around those parts, also commonly called fieldstone.
Jeremey Day More than 1 year ago
Great story Derick, im wondering if you have been to Arlington?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I concur on your notes about the Red Mile and Keeneland. Certainly it would be nice if the Red Mile was able to get permission again to offer thouroughbred simulcasting just during Saturday and Sunday of each Keeneland live racing day. Also they should be allowed to offer big day thouroughbred simulcasting, including triple crown and Breeders Cup. On big days Keeneland has offered drive up at the Red Mile. But it would be better to allow inside betting and viewing. I realize Red Mile gave up their rights to save the track. But on big days Keeneland cannot handle the crowd. When I lived in Lexington often I and others would travel out of town to bet Keeneland, especially on the weekend. But I miss the beauty of the area and the feeling of being central to thouroughbred racing now. Combined Sales of horses, racing and breeding farms there make a must travel too for all racing enthusiasts. Rdavis
Billy More than 1 year ago
Breeders Crown at the Red Mile seems like too good of an idea. With the success of night racing at Churchill, it could be a huge event there if it was done right.
Doris Tenczar More than 1 year ago
We were at Red Mile for the week just ended last Sunday, racing was very good except for one race that I'm lost to recall the date. The race was the last on either Friday or Saturday(went to Keeneland for opening on Friday) and the horse racing on the pole, driven by Mr. Pierce, ran his race in the post parade. Mr. Pierce could not control his horse for 2 trips around the track and the horse was not scratched, despite the fact he was 99/1 and he couldn't even make the starting gate and made absolutely no effort to contest the race because he was so tired(must have finished at least 1/4 mile behind everyone). Hope someone reviews the race and condemns Mr. Pierce for not scratching him and making the track refund all wagering on the horse. It was a shame!!!
Don Reed More than 1 year ago
Keeneland was built for humans; hence its undisputed success. Now. Let's get rid of that recorded bugle call ( (or is it live?) before each race. Horrible. Beyond horrible. The siren song of Hell.
Blaine MacMillan More than 1 year ago
Yo Derick, is that 2YO filly Power Pack Hanover, as good as she looks, even though she raced in late closer events?
Carl Hiel More than 1 year ago
that was a great pic on 5knuckle shuffle i piggybacked that xacta just missed the 50 cent triple by by being a cheapskategreat .you do a heckava job handicapping .red mile has great racing from beginging to the end its a closers track even more so than the meadowlands
ML-NJ More than 1 year ago
It seems silly to me to run in the afternoon opposite Keeneland's big fall weekend. I travel to Lexington for this, and I really don't want to miss any of the thoroughbred races, but I'm sure that if the Red Mile ran at night I would have seen some races there by now. (I did go over there one morning to look around several years ago.)