With horse racing season just around the corner, now would be a good time to get out and horse around in Kentucky, you know, before the roads really get crowded.
Even though Kentuckians are assumed to be connected to these four-legged bluebloods just because they live here, the fact is most don’t know the difference between an exacta and a trifecta. But every April it becomes a rite of passage for Kentuckians to suddenly become equine experts.
If knowing the names of a few horses that might enter the Kentucky Derby or being able to drop the names of jockeys Calvin Borel or Pat Day every so often qualifies, then there are indeed many experts by the time the first Saturday in May rolls around.
One way to add credibility to your horse knowledge would be to tour a horse farm.
While there are working horse farms throughout the state, most of the Thoroughbred operations are in the Bluegrass area near Lexington.
“Even if people don’t have a vast knowledge of the horse, they still want a firsthand experience,” says David Lord, past president of the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Lord, who retired from his position at the end of March, has spent the past 17 years promoting Kentucky’s horses.
“Horses are us,” he says. “And this is one place, on our farm tours, that visitors can get up close and see some of the great names in horses. Horses are the number one reason they come to this area.”
Central Kentucky has about 450 horse farms, with as many as 150 in Fayette County alone. Keep in mind that these are working farms that don’t take kindly to folks dropping by unannounced. Many farms allow visitors by appointment or through arrangements with tour companies.
Tour companies’ offerings take several forms. One way is to use a regularly scheduled public group tour. These will have a published itinerary and price, and the tour company works directly with the farms.
For private tours, groups or individuals approach a company with their own itinerary and perhaps specific farms they want to visit, and the company makes arrangements with the farms. Pricing varies widely depending on group size and itinerary.
A third type is the “step-on” tour, in which an outside tour company passing through the area will contract with a local company to provide a guide to board their bus and show them the area.
John Y. Hamilton, who works in blood stock services at Three Chimneys Farm, has his take on the farm tours.
“We feel that we have a responsibility to Kentucky and the area,” he says. “Plus, you never know when the next Bill Gates might be on one of the tours. He just might become interested in what we have going on here and become a client.”
Although Seattle Slew (now deceased) and Smarty Jones are no longer at Three Chimneys, Hamilton points out that it is well-known Thoroughbreds like those that can create a buzz.
“While they were here, they were sort of like cult heroes to the average fan,” he adds.
Hamilton says something similar is happening to current resident Big Brown. “It’s amazing how many people, even if they are not horse people, want to see him. They come by the bus loads.”
There are a number of quality tour operators, and you should shop around for what fits your pocketbook and schedule.
To get started, check out a few of the farms in Destinations below. An extensive list can be found online at www.visitlex.com.
You might want to begin your equine education at the Kentucky Horse Park at the edge of Lexington. It’s open year-round and is home to as many as 200 horses, including racing legend Cigar.
Visitors can watch typical workday activities of the horse industry at The Thoroughbred Center, a training facility near the Horse Park. A tour of the center includes visiting the barns, meeting a trainer, watching a morning workout, and learning about horse auctions.
Thoroughbreds are considered racing royalty, but there’s another category of horses, the Saddlebred, in nearby Shelbyville. The Saddlebred is considered the elite of the show ring and several Shelby County farms are open for tours, by appointment only through the Shelbyville-Shelby County Visitors Bureau.
Lexington Convention & Visitors Bureau
301 E. Vine St., Lexington
(859) 233-7299 or (800) 845-3959
www.visitlex.com or www.horsecapitaltours.com
Find lists online of companies that provide tours of horse farms for any size group.
Keeneland Race Course/Track Kitchen
4201 Versailles Road, Lexington
Kentucky Horse Park
4089 Iron Works Parkway, Lexington
(859) 233-4303 or (800) 678-8813
The Thoroughbred Center
3380 Paris Pike, Lexington
Shelbyville-Shelby County Visitors Bureau
316 Main St., Shelbyville
Private Farm Tours
Tours of private farms are by appointment only; call or check Web site.
3001 Pisgah Pike, Versailles
2010 Derby Winner Super Saver
Three Chimneys Farm
1981 Old Frankfort Pike, Versailles
2008 Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown
4701 Paris Pike, Lexington
5095 Frankfort Road, near Versailles
2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus and 1995 Derby winner Thunder Gulch
703 Winchester Road, near Paris
Burial site of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: MORE THINGS TO DO IN HORSE COUNTRY
Learn about Metzger’s Country Store and other fun horse-related attractions at More Things to Do in Horse Country.