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The Early Years of Keeneland History

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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 their own and merely just enjoyed the pure sport of racing. Little did he know, this great place would soon become one of world's greatest racetracks. With this outlook, The Keeneland Association saw Keene's property as a start to their dream.

After all of these years, and with The Keeneland Association wanting to buy the portion of Keene's property with the track and clubhouse, he was finally willing to sell. With this notion, the project was set in a brilliant direction. Articles of Incorporation were filed on April 17, 1935 for Keeneland Association. As a result of this, Hal Price Headley was elected Keeneland president, Jack Young first vice-president, A.B. Gay second vice-president, Brownell Combs secretary, and W.H. Courtney treasurer.

The Keeneland Association on August 29, 1935 purchased 147 1/2 acres of Keene's property for $130,000 in cash and 10,000 in preferred stock at par value. This beautiful property included a one and one-sixteenth mile track; a stone building which was nearly completed. The stone building was 258 feet long, 58 feet wide, and two and three stories in height. J.O. "Jack" Keene had an ongoing obsession with stone architecture and was the first to construct a building with this style adapted from the Europeans. Keene's property was adaptable for a clubhouse, office, residence, and other purposes. The water system, including 100,000 gallon tank; and an incomplete quarter-mile indoor training track, with 48 fireproof stalls adjoining that made this property more than outstanding. But, Keeneland Association had a bigger dream than what was already presently there.

On October 1, 1935, architects planned for construction of the grandstand which included a 2,500 seating capacity; construction of paddock; and remodeling the clubhouse. This project was submitted by Robert McMeekin, and were accepted by the Association board of directors. The Keeneland Association also hired George Hoskins Lumber Company and Frazer and Yellman, electricians, for construction and wiring of seven winter barns. While this was happening, contracts were also awarded to W.T. Congleton Lumber Company for foundation work of six summer barns; Smith-Haggard Lumber Company for construction of kitchen and blacksmith shop; and Lexington Quarry Company for grandstand foundation and roads. Also in addition to the others, a contract with George Hoskins Lumber Company was given the right to construct the phenomenal grandstand.

The grandstand is one of the most attractive places on the property. It is selectively constructed of stone. The ends and front piers of the grandstand are of stone and the lawn extending in front of the stands is so graded that everyone on it will be provided a limitless view of the entire track. The grandstand is facing the blazing sun, but white parasols would later be provided to obstruct the sun. Eventhough the grandstand is facing the sun, the legendary grandstand shines like the Mint Julep Cup given to the Bluegrass Stakes winners.

Clubhouse guests would enter the building through the main clubroom on the first floor. The stairs to the mezzanine, go to the second floor where a stag bar and ladies' bar were located in the wing next to the track. The main restaurant was located on the third floor of the left wing. Facilities for par-mutuel betting also were established in the clubhouse. Clubhouse porches extended from the clubhouse toward the track one from each level. A spacious lawn also was available to clubhouse guests and members.

Betting machines were located on the first floor beneath the grandstand. The first floor also included a restaurant and kitchen, men's rooms and other facilities. The second level beneath the grandstand was devoted to the control rooms of the totalizator, which is the form of wagering used at Keeneland. A totalizator odds board was constructed in the centerfield. The

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