08/12/2010 10:00PM

Keeneland Library lets you read all about it - on the Web


LEXINGTON, Ky. – If you’ve got a question about Thoroughbred racing or breeding history, chances are pretty good you’ll find the answer at the Keeneland Library.

The library was once located in several small rooms at the back of the Keeneland grandstand but moved to a new, 10,000-square-foot building on Keeneland’s grounds in 2002. It is an important stop for historians, fans, authors, and breeders, and with good reason. The library contains about 10,000 volumes and periodicals, historic photographs,and negatives dating back to the 1890s, sporting art and trophies, and books on general horsemanship going back to a 1678 Latin treatise on veterinary care and horse training. A key feature: the complete archives of Daily Racing Form, from 1896 to the present, is now in the process of being digitized for Internet use.

The Keeneland Library won a Special Eclipse Award in 2002 for its role in preserving Thoroughbred history. Some of the artifacts there are well known; some of the most popular with the public are the leather-bound photo albums from Keeneland’s history, especially the album depicting Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to the racetrack in 1984. Others are less popular but arguably more valuable to researchers. On a recent visit, librarian Cathy Schenck showed a visitor a worn ledger book, Dr. Elisha Warfield’s stud book from the mid-1800s. A pair of entries makes it nearly priceless. One from 1850 notes, in cursive, the birth of a bay colt by Boston out of Alice Carneal. A later note, added in pencil, tells the rest of the story: “Afterwards named Lexington.” Lexington, a champion racehorse and the most influential sire in the last half of the 1800s, led the U.S. sire list 16 times. An earlier entry in the ledger book records the birth of his dam, Alice Carneal, daughter of Rowena, in 1836, and again there is a comment that was later penciled in: “This mare not to be sold for any price.”

Other treasures at the Keeneland Library: an 1802 coin-silver loving cup that was used as a trophy; seven leather-bound albums of photographs from John C. Hemment, who captured racetrack life, winning horses, and Turf worthies between 1890 and 1910; Joe Hirsch’s speeches; 19th century periodicals detailing race coverage and farm life.

The Daily Racing Form Preservation Project, a partnership with the University of Kentucky Libraries, is the latest and most ambitious step in the library’s mission to serve as the world’s foremost Thoroughbred history research facility. It has already digitized more than 300,000 Daily Racing Form pages. About 132,000 of those are online at kdl.kyvl.org/drf or through www.keeneland.com/drfarchives. Access is free, and the articles are searchable. But they represent a fraction of the approximately 8 million unique pages the project eventually could digitize and post. That will take funding, said Becky Ryder, who recently left the University of Kentucky to become Keeneland’s library director. One of her immediate goals is to raise funds for the Daily Racing Form project, which Ryder estimates would probably take about $10 million, or about $1.25 a page, to complete.

“We’re getting serious about fundraising,” Ryder said. “When we get our next big ramp-up of funding, we’re going to go back and do the things that are in the worst condition in chronological order, instead of cherry-picking hot topics.”

A pilot project sampled stories from 1896 to 1991, focusing on major events such as Triple Crown coverage and on copies of the newspaper that are in what Ryder calls “the most imperiled condition.”

Digitizing a volume of the Form, which occurs at University of Kentucky, takes 13 steps.

“There are probably eight different people who touch each issue along the way, and it probably takes a 20-page issue about 20 minutes to be completed,” Ryder said.

The project has been complex and challenging.

“The scope of the collection covers over 100 years of publishing,” Ryder said. “The nature of the Form, the so-called look and feel of it, changes over time, dramatically. It was four pages at the beginning, and it’s hundreds of pages now. It’s been everything in between, from 1896 to the present. You can see the condition of the paper change over the decades. The 1920s papers are in really good condition; the 1930s papers are in really bad condition. The 1900s are some of the worst, but the 1890s are in very good condition. You have to take into consideration the condition of the materials.”

Such changes in the newspaper’s look, and in its coverage, reflect history, too.

“It’s been interesting to see the development of the Kentucky Derby supplements,” Ryder said. “In the first part of the Form’s existence, the Derby was the fourth race at Churchill Downs on Wednesday. It wasn’t the big spectacle it is now. It’s neat to see how the Derby coverage has been illustrated and has grown to having a complete supplement devoted to it.”

American racing’s historical trends also show up in the library’s collected works of PEB, longtime Form cartoonist Pierre Bellocq.

“You can see the internationalization of the sport as the cartooning and caricatures by PEB begin to represent international owners,” Ryder said. “You can see the trend of women joining the profession through the comics. Early comics depicted women jockeys as kind of like cartoon floozies, whereas caricatures in the ’80s and ’90s represent extremely capable female athletes.

“It’s also interesting to see how the race’s winners were portrayed,” she said. “In many cases, the winners were the owners. But very early on and again later, it was always the horse. In the earliest issues, there was a conformation lithograph or portrait of the horse. But as people became covered more and more, you begin to see more pictures of the people. In the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, you get into action photos. You see the horses crossing the finish line and the overhead camera shots.”

The work is painstaking, but Ryder said she believes it is worth the effort and cost.

“We’re doing this at the highest quality,” she said. “To be able to search for particular articles and to have the quality of images that we present on the Web. We could just provide access to full pages, which wouldn’t be as precise when you search. But right now, you can search for particular bylines, and you’ll just get that material.

“The Form was made to be held in the racing fans’ hands, so we really want to appeal to fans.”

The Keeneland Library is accepting donations, and you also can donate to the preservation project when you purchase Daily Racing Form merchandise, such as past performances at www.drf.com.

But there is still one thing on the Keeneland Library’s wish list that relates to the Form.

“We don’t have Volume One,” Ryder said. “We noticed as early as 1897 that Frank Brunell was advertising that if any of his customers had Volume One, the office would like to have them.”