If you have read my posts in “History of the Garden”, you know that when we moved here horses used to look at me over the fence. There were horses on one side, and on the other, up the street a few properties away there were, and still are, more horses. I occasionally hear them whinny. Several streets in Lexington are named for famous horses, right in there along with those named for presidents of the United States.

When people learn we are from Kentucky they usually ask right away if we have horses. No, we do not have horses. What I know about horses could be put into a thimble - all I know is: one end bites and the other end kicks.

So, why so many horses in this area? – the mineral rich pastures. So the story goes: During the Ordovician Period of the Paleozoic Era, about 450 million years ago, layers and layers of marine shells and skeletons of marine invertebrates were deposited in the clear waters about where southern Brazil is now located. Eons of geologic heaving, and moving plates about, landed those rich deposits under where we live today in the Inner Bluegrass Region of Kentucky. That sediment weathered and eroded creating soil that is rich in minerals such as calcium and phosphorus that build strong bones and teeth. As the limestone continues to break down, it is absorbed by vegetation such as Blue Grass and leaches into the streams of water. The animals consuming such a mineral rich diet form light, strong, solid bones, and the phosphorus helps them metabolize their food better, thus growing strong tendons and elastic muscles. Astute men recognized there was something special about the horses that lived in this relatively small area of the Inner Bluegrass region of Kentucky and sent their prized horses here to be boarded – they still do. Not many miles away as one goes from the Inner Bluegrass to the Outer Bluegrass region, the quality of the richness declines.

Today, Lexington is promoting itself as “The Horse Capital of the World” – to the chagrin of competing towns such as Nashville, Tennessee, which also has a limestone base. The contention and competition go way back – back to Andrew Jackson of Nashville and Henry Clay of Lexington, who hated one another - and possibly further.

Moving here has been educational: I have learned there are thoroughbreds and standardbreds, and have been told that the people in the industries of the two groups do not mix; each thinking theirs is the better.

If there is anything Kentucky people love more than tailgate partying before University of Kentucky football games, and rocking Rupp Arena with their roaring support of the basketball team - it is horses!

The first racetrack was built in Lexington in 1780. But it is said that racing actually started in Lexington the day the second horse arrived. Currently, there are two race tracks here: The Red Mile where standardbred horses are raced and Keeneland the track for thoroughbreds.

When I heard about The Red Mile, I wondered why it was named - “The Red Mile”. A few years later, I was in an airplane returning from New Orleans. As the pilot circled the plane around to position it in the flight pattern for landing, I peered out the window to see if I could recognize anything. Looking down, there was The Red Mile racetrack, I recognized it immediately, and, yes, it was red – red dirt. I don’t know if it is red clay, or red sand, but it is definitely “red”. That answered my question; now I know why it was named The Red Mile.

The track is located on Red Mile Road about five minutes from our house. In early July there is a two-day quarterhorse race followed by harness racing (pulling the little sulkies) from late July to early October. The meet ends with the Grand Circuit when some of the best trotters and pacers in the country can be seen.

A familiar face, and probably the best known name, at The Red Mile was actor Jay Silverheels, a.k.a. Tonto to Clayton Moore's Lone Ranger. We of a certain "mature" age will recognize those names. His second career after acting was breeding standardbreds and harness racing.

Fasig-Tipton is Kentucky’s largest standardbred yearling sale. It began Wednesday night (October 3) at the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion, and runs through Sunday night (October 7). This year, 2007, there is a catalog of 820 yearling trotters and pacers.

One yearling, Dali, previously purchased at the Lexington sale, won the $415,000 Woodrow Wilson Pace this year at the Meadowlands track in New Jersey; seems to me to be a pretty good return on its $57,000 purchase price. But, don’t quote me, for I know nothing about the cost of training and maintaining these athletic animals.

Last year, the high sale was a horse named Give Me A V at $270,000. The total of sales last year was up 19.1 % from the year before, at $31 million for 788 yearlings. This year predictions are for another good year, due to the weakened American dollar stimulating the buying activity of international investors.

The other racetrack is the historic Keeneland track for thoroughbreds. Keeneland is located less than five minutes from our house. It is on Highway 60 across the highway from the airport and runs for three weeks in April and three weeks in October, during which time we have great difficulty turning left when we attempt to enter or leave our neighborhood.

Keeneland opened October 15, 1936, as one of the world’s first not-for-profit racetracks, maybe THE first. In 1986 it was designated a National Historic Landmark. It is very attractive visually and by racing during April and October, there is added beauty because those are our prettiest months of the year. Crowds can exceed 30,000 people and often do on lovely days of April and October.

As I write this, it is now time for the fall meet: Keeneland started running Friday, October 5, 2007, and goes through Saturday, October 27, 2007 (except Mondays and Tuesdays).

During the spring meet there is a stakes race each day, one being the Blue Grass Stakes, a preparatory race with the winner going on to run in the Kentucky Derby the first Saturday in May. (The Kentucky Derby is called a “religious holiday” in Kentucky.)

The Spinster Stakes, leading up to the Breeders’ Cup championship program, highlights the fall meet.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip have attended races at Keeneland twice over the years, the only track she has visited in the United States.

Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day said of Keeneland: “Keeneland is so very special. It’s like a working vacation. It’s classy racing, it’s good racing.”

There are various sales during the year, such as the prestigious Selected Yearling Sale (July), and people come from all over the world for them. We are talking BIG NUMBERS. Terms such as “regally bred” are heard, recognized, and understood as one watches the gorgeous animals.

During the September sales of 2006 – twelve (12) progeny of the sire Danzig were sold for a total of $17,590,000 and a sale record average of $1,465,833. One was a dark bay colt that sold for $9.2 million. That was not a record price. I have read that it was only the third highest in the history of the Keeneland September sale.

According to the Lexington-Herald Leader newspaper, and I quote: “A son of Northern Dancer, Danzig has sired 192 stakes winners to date – including champions Dance Smartly and Chief’s Crown – and has progeny earnings of more than $105 million. He topped the U.S. sire list from 1991-93 while his son Danehill has been the leading sire in England, France and Australia.” (Lexington Herald-Leader, September 23, 2006, Section C page 1, column 3.)

The Keeneland September yearling sale, the world’s largest yearling auction, is a fifteen-day event. It is considered to be the premier horse sale in the world with horses for everyone and for every budget.

2005 records show: horses sold - 2,919; horses unsold - 801; Gross sales $377.1 millions; average price $129,187; median price $52,000. An unnamed son of Storm Cat sold for the highest-price in sale history at $ 9.7 million.

Last year’s sale (2006) set a record high in the history of the sale with gross sales at more than $399 million. This year (2007) there were a record number of 5,553 entries in their catalog, but gross sales came in second highest, selling 3,799 horses for $385,018,600. Cumulative average of $101,347 was down from $112,427 while overall median dipped from $45,000 last year to $42,000 this year. European buyers spent $16 million more this year than last. The weakened American dollar may be the reason.

Those are large numbers, still some are concerned and say it is harder to sell a horse for a profit because the price of stud fees keep climbing. A profitable sale is considered to be two times stud fee plus $15,000.

Seven-figure bidding wars are not unusual and have come to be expected. Big names bidding and buying include Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, his brother Sheikh Hamdan, and John Magnier owner of Coolmore Stud farms and organization (Ireland, Australia, and Ashford Stud in Kentucky, U.S.A.).

The brothers’ two 747s are familiar sights parked at Blue Grass Airport in easy view from the highway and directly across the road from Keeneland itself. In 2006 their horses won the Preakness, Travers, and Belmont races.

Combined Sales: Last year, 2006, sales at Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton, COMBINED, reached over $1.1 billion.

Once or twice since we moved here, there has been a day when, with careful planning, it was possible for fans and tourists to spend a while at Keeneland, some at The Red Mile, and attend a University of Kentucky home football game all on the same day and evening. What a day!

Kentucky Horse Park: Off Interstate 75 at Exit 120
The park is a tribute to horses of all breeds.

The Horse Park will be the site of The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in the year 2010 (beginning September 25, 2010). The last world games were held in Aachen, Germany. The games consist of eight disciplines, such as dressage. There is much work to be done to prepare the area for so large and so prestigious an event.

A few sights of interest at the Horse Park are:
The American Saddle Horse Museum
A Statue of Man o’ War - 1 ½ times the size of the horse. Won 20 of 21 races entered. Died in 1947

And the Kentucky Horse Park is the current home of John Henry, the old horse that has won the hearts of so many. More about John Henry, his interesting history, and why he was so named, can be found here: