The Early Years of Keeneland History
Kentucky’s open grasslands had attracted the type of settler who loved horses because of its great beauty. Also, Kentucky imposed richness of soil minerals, abundance of water, and suitable climate, terrain, and vegetation that attracted these people. People that lived in Kentucky possessed a great love and pride for sporting horses. Their love and passion of horses would shape the Thoroughbred world of today.
The horse industry in Kentucky expanded rapidly with the great passion of breeding and sporting horses. Horse breeding became well established in the Bluegrass before the end of the eighteenth century. One of the reason why the great industry of the Thoroughbred business flourished is that a law was passed concerning the preservation and improvement of breeds of horses. Another dominant reason that all the inhabitants of Kentucky took great care in breeding and improving the breeds of horses.
Lexington had been without a racetrack since the deteriorating Kentucky Association plant operated its last meeting in the spring of 1933. Racing was needed in central Kentucky, and something had to be done. Horsemen and Owners knew that something desperately needed to be done to keep the tradition of Kentucky racing alive. If something was not done then the great industry of Thoroughbred racing would definitely decline.
On a Wednesday afternoon March 20, 1935, Major Louie A. Beard addressed a mass meeting of breeders and others interested in the future of racing in Lexington. Beard outlined the plans for the purchase and development of Keeneland at the Lafayette Hotel. “This may seem like a dream, but I believe it is a dream that can be realized.”, Beard concluded. This statement was a truer prophet than most of those present realized.
These men seemed to know something that nobody else knew when it came to forming a racing and sales complex. They established policies that have existed for the past 50 years, they made predictions that have come true, and they built a horse facility that has lived up to every expectation. But, of course Keeneland was never intended to be just another racetrack. Twenty different sites were looked upon, but Hal Price Headley and company kept coming back to prominent Fayette County sportsman J.O. Keene’s property on the Versailles Pike, six miles west from Lexington.
When it came to horses and how their racetracks should look “Jack” Keene knew what it was all supposed to be about. Keene spent more than 20 years of his life, and some $400,000 of his money, in trying to build a track and combination clubhouse and stable. He never intended for his fine establishment to be used for racing but rather to be a training center for his friends and their horses. Keene and his friends conducted private races of...