Feeling the earth shake as a mass of thundering hooves goes barreling down the stretch during a horse race is one of the quintessential Kentucky experiences.

 

Each May, more than 150,000 fans gather at Churchill Downs to attend the most famous horse race in America: the Kentucky Derby. Other races held at Churchill Downs are equally beloved by Kentuckians, including Thurby and Kentucky Oaks. Keeneland, a National Historic Landmark in Lexington, holds world-class thoroughbred races in the spring and fall, as well as some of the most prestigious horse sales in the world. Throughout the year, the public can watch racehorses run through their early morning workouts, followed by breakfast at the Track Kitchen – an intimate experience that will make you feel like you’re part of a special club. 

 

And if you’d just like to learn about the sport's inspiring horses, trainers and jockeys, the Kentucky Derby Museum and the International Museum of the Horse at the Kentucky Horse Park will give you a deeper appreciation for the animals and the sport.

Trip Inspiration

Experience the Thrill of Kentucky Horse Racing

Bourbon, Horses & History Bluegrass, Horses, Bourbon, and Boone Region Northern Kentucky River Region Caves, Lakes & Corvettes

by Ben Mackin
Published: March 10, 2024

 

There are few words more synonymous with Kentucky than horses. In fact, just saying the words together evokes images of thoroughbreds and jockeys adorned in vibrant colors, as they thunder into the homestretch at Churchill Downs - all competing for the dream of winning the Kentucky Derby.

 

Horse racing and the Kentucky Derby are so ingrained in Kentucky culture that the first Saturday in May, or Derby Day, as Kentuckians call it, is akin to a state holiday. More than 150,000 people travel to Louisville every year to witness the most exciting two minutes in sports. Millions more, particularly those in the Bluegrass State, throw Derby Parties and tune in at home. Since 1935, the city of Louisville begins celebrating a full two weeks early with elegant balls, a marathon, concerts, and community events during the aptly named, Kentucky Derby Festival.

 

This year will be particularly special because it’s the 150th “Run for the Roses,” making it the oldest continuous American sporting event. Over the last one and a half centuries, the size and scope of the venerated race, and horse racing culture, have grown exponentially.

 

As massive as the Derby is in the world’s consciousness, it’s just the beginning when it comes to Kentucky horseracing. Here’s what to know, about all of Kentucky’s  thoroughbred racetracks, whether you are a horse enthusiast or just looking for a fun way to spend your afternoon:

 

 

Churchill Downs

 

Kentucky Derby

 

With approximately 70 days of live thoroughbred racing a year,  Churchill Downs is a busy place. Every year, the mile-long course and the barns next to it house, train and race more than 1,400 horses and welcome more than a quarter of a million visitors. Meets at the “Twin Spires” include the Spring Meet, which begins after Derby Day, the September Meet, and the Fall Meet. If you find yourself at Churchill Downs on a day without races, check out the Kentucky Derby Museum next to the track, where you can also book racetrack and barn tours to get an insiders’ look at what makes Churchill Downs so special.

 

 

 

Keeneland Race Course

 

 

Keeneland in Lexington has been a horseracing hub since its first races in the late 1930s. With a Spring Meet in April and a Fall Meet in October, Keeneland features around 30 days of racing annually, and each year, its four thoroughbred auctions result in more than $500 million in sales. Keeneland, a National Historic Landmark, offers year-round tours of its grounds and training facilities as well as the opportunity to watch horses conduct morning workouts.

 

 

 

Turfway Park

 

 

A few miles from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport, Turfway Park holds two meets each year: The Holiday Meet in December and the Winter/Spring Meet from January to late March. Turfway originally opened in 1959 as Latonia Race Track and has featured several prestigious races over the years, including the Jeff Ruby Steaks and the John Battaglia Memorial, both of which are included on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby.” Due to its winter and early spring races, Turfway’s track is made of synthetic material that makes racing safer during bad weather.

 

Thoroughbred racing at Kentucky Downs racetrack in Franklin, Kentucky.

 

 

Kentucky Downs

 

 

Located just north of the Kentucky-Tennessee border in Franklin, the all-turf flat racetrack at Kentucky Downs is beautiful, and the only European-style track in North America. Kentucky Downs only holds one meet a year during late summer, making it one of the most exclusive racing events around. During these seven race days, Kentucky Downs offers experiences ranging from VIP treatment at the finish line to free tailgating and general admission on the final turn and stretch.

 

 

Ellis Park

 

Positioned just north of the Ohio River and just south of the Kentucky-Indiana border in Henderson, Ellis Park Race Course holds meets from July to September. Designed after the Saratoga Race Course in New York, the 1.125-mile dirt track features a 60,000-person grandstand offering amazing views of the racing action.


 

No matter the time of year, experiencing the thrill and majesty of thoroughbred horseracing is always an option when you are looking for an unforgettable Kentucky experience.

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