Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Keeneland Spring - God’s Country

--Gary King

People talk about Saratoga and Del Mar, but there is something very special about Keeneland Spring. I have been fortunate to attend many of the world’s top races/festivals, and Keeneland Spring is comparable to any of them. The buzz around Lexington leading up to, and during the month of April is amazing. The horses are top-notch, the atmosphere is electric, and the girls are very easy on the eye. What more could you ask for? Granted the weather tends to be a little erratic, evidenced this weekend, but this fails to dampen people’s spirits.

The young demographic at Keeneland
 For the people of Lexington and beyond, Keeneland is the place to be for the month of April regardless of weather conditions. Moreover, to see such a young demographic at the track is refreshing to say the least. It’s true that the majority are there solely to tailgate and some never actually see a horse, but racing needs to be promoted as a social occasion. Despite angering the purists, people do not need to know the ins-and-outs of handicapping and pedigree analysis to enjoy a day at the races. As Darley America’s Gerry Duffy so aptly put it at dinner last week--you need to get the masses racing before converting them into fans/bettors.

I realize that not all racetracks can be a Keeneland or a Saratoga, but it is pleasant to attend the races where there are more people than horses. It simply fuels my desire for adopting a two-tier racing system, similar to a major and minor league. Such a system would adhere to the quality over quantity philosophy, while also making it easier for the general public to identify and relate to our complicated and fragmented sport. For example, the Australian industry is thriving at present partially due to its tiered approach--city tracks and country tracks. 

If nothing else, Keeneland Spring makes you feel a little more optimistic about the sport’s future. Racing still has the capacity to evolve beyond the sporting realm, appealing to a variety of people from all walks-of-life.

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