Keeneland’s “The Hill:” Tail Gating As It Was Meant To Be

(Hanging out at “The Hill” / Photo by Gene McLean)

Oh, my gosh.

That’s really all one can say. And, in this case, write.

Oh, my gosh.

For some time now, I have heard about the tailgating parties that are alive and well on “The Hill” at Keeneland. I have heard how much fun it is. I have heard how much “the kids” love going; parking; eating; dressing up; and enjoying a day at Keeneland — even if it is about 2 miles from the entrance to the racetrack.

For some time now, I have heard nothing but raves about how this “Celebration of the Horse,” was drawing crowds; buses; RVs (as Cousin Eddie would like to say), and tons of race fans.

For some time now, I have pledged to go.

Today, Leigh Ann, my beautiful wife, and I finally went. And?

Oh, my gosh.

Everything I have heard? Multiply by about a zillion. A zillion laughs that you hear, drowning out the race calls. A zillion cars, all parked in unison rows and all toting youngsters and oldsters (like us), alike. A zillion solo cups, the vessels of suds and in the hands of buds. A zillion good times, and a zillion memories being burned.

You see kids dressed in their Sunday best. All hoping to make their way to one of the greatest racetracks on earth, and hoping to join the scene of some of the most beautiful people around.

You see adults dressed in blue jeans and boots, hoping to avoid the hustle and bustle of the crowd and just wanting to sit, eat, socialize and enjoy a day at the races in civil style.

You see children, hustling up to listen to the Bluegrass band and dancing the day away.

There are large screen TVS situated in the main area, covering both the races and the football games. There is a tented betting area, where all can go and place a wager on their favorite horse. There is a “Gift Shop” with the fashionable Keeneland wear for sale. There are shuttle buses by the dozen, transported the peeps over to the track for some closer action. There are food trucks, peddling the hot dogs and cold drinks in abundance.

Most of all, though, there was nothing but fun. Every where you turned.

A group of college kids laughing.

A group of old folks handicapping.

A table full of outdoor foods.

A picnic basket full of indoor goodies.

The most important thing, though, all of this jubilation and celebration was going on at a Thoroughbred race track.

For those that like to think otherwise, horse racing is not dead. It is alive and well. And, if you want some evidence of it — just go to “The Hill.”

It is a masterpiece of what can be done to make racing more fun, and more viable. It is a celebration of good times and great cheer. It is an amazing day at the races.

Here’s our look today:

(All Photos by Gene McLean)

Let’s go racing.

Let’s go to “The Hill.”


I was absolutely dancing into the Winner’s Circle. It was so exciting and Joel has been like one of my kids ever since he came from Bay Meadows. We tease each other a lot. We greet each other by grunting and everybody looks at us like, ‘what’s that all about’ but we’ve been doing it for years. So it’s wonderful to win with him. The owners are great people that really deserve something like this.

“This horse seems like he’s more adept at seven furlongs to a mile so I’m not sure he wants a mile and a quarter …

“I could tell my horse had won, but I was so excited in the stretch I thought I was gonna pass out.

“We are very happy with the way our horse had trained for this race, but it’s always scary when you get a look at those Baffert ‘Maseratis’, it pretty much unfolded the way we had hoped.

“The people that own this horse, they’ve got this colt a seven furlong-miler type maybe time will tell differently, but the other colt they are focusing on him going the two turns.”

  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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