Mane Event: Lexington Beats the Derby by a Length


Louisville may have two famous minutes of thundering action this month, but another well-bred Kentucky city, Lexington, has virtually everything else equestrian. Rolling bluegrass pastures crisscrossed by miles of white four-board fence engulf the genteel destination, home to more than 400 horse farms, including some of the world’s most prestigious. Horse Country, Inc. books up-close encounters with celebrity stock: The hottest ticket running is Coolmore America’s Ashford Stud, home to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, who commands a $200,000 stud fee (but will flash his big brown eyes at you for the cost of a $20 ticket).

Though it only hosts live races in April and October, Keeneland has done so every year since 1936. Hollywood showcased the National Historic Landmark in period films such as Secretariat and Seabiscuit, and it is reputed to have the world’s largest horse auction, with buyers from around the globe. Participation is exclusive—Arab royalty routinely attends—but the public can marvel at the merchandise and high-dollar bids. And even though the ponies don’t run here in May, fans pack the grandstand for a “Derby Day” viewing party with the trappings of Churchill Downs (fancy hats, mint juleps, etc.).

Kentucky Horse Park  leads guided trail rides on rented steeds, and it is the site of the Smithsonian-affiliated International Museum of the Horse and its 16,000 objects and photographs devoted to the animal. Near Keeneland, guests can overnight on a working “nursery” farm at the upscale-rustic Eighth Pole Inn, a recently renovated mansion with barn-wood beams, plank floors, tufted leather furniture, and deep soaking tubs. Pro thoroughbred owners and trainers frequent the inn, so there’s no telling whom you might meet in the billiards room. Fine bourbon is available to sip while strolling through the barn and pastures, and—who knows?—some of the foals you see romping in the paddock might be future Derby winners. 


Dudley’s on Short has vintage horse photos and refined rib-stickers like braised lamb shank. 


Noted urban-funky Louisville boutique 21c Museum Hotel has a new Lexington location.


Forage for carrots and oats at the renowned Lexington Farmers Market.