Keeneland/Coady Photography

Keeneland Celebrates 75th Birthday Oct. 15

The first race in 1936 was a $1,000 allowance race for 2-year-old fillies.

Edited Keeneland press release

Oct. 15 was the big day. Keeneland celebrated its 75th birthday.

Keeneland opened October 15, 1936 in Lexington. Noted Turf writer, author, and university history professor Maryjean Wall recently described the Depression-era times:

“World War II loomed closer in Europe. The infamous Mrs. Wallis Simpson filed in England for divorce with her name linked to scandal and a crisis on the horizon for King Edward’s throne. These headlines dominated world news on October 15, 1936 – but not the news in Lexington. A banner headline in The Lexington Herald reassured Thoroughbred fans that all was bright in their world with these four words: ‘Keeneland Will Open Today.’ ”

On Oct. 15, 1936 (which fell on a Friday), all of Central Kentucky was ecstatic about the return of Thoroughbred racing to Lexington. Keeneland, created by a forward-thinking group of area residents to be a model racetrack, held a seven-race card with $7,380 in total purses.

The first race was a $1,000 allowance race for 2-year-old fillies going six furlongs. The winner was John Hay Whitney’s Royal Raiment, a daughter of Royal Minstrel who won the race by four lengths. She was trained by J.W. Healy and ridden by J. Gilbert.

Whitney was among the notable names who participated in Keeneland’s first season of racing. Finishing sixth in that first race was Wise Dart, trained by a young man in his first season of training – future Racing Hall of Famer Woody Stephens.

The fifth race on opening day showcased the horse that would be the star of Keeneland’s first season. She was future Hall of Famer Myrtlewood, who won the inaugural Keen Handicap and would win twice more during the nine-day season.

About 8,000 people were at Keeneland on opening day, when total wagering reached $74,639.

This year on Oct. 15, George Michaels’ favored Luke of York overcame a slow start, rallying in deep stretch to edge Voodoo Daddy by a nose in the $125,000 Keeneland 75th Anniversary Stakes. Larry Zip was another nose back in third in the six-furlong event for 2-year-olds over the synthetic Polytrack surface. Ridden by Rajiv Maragh, Luke of York turned in a winning time of 1:09.56.