Anne M. Eberhardt

Keeneland Upgrades Parking System for Meet

Keeneland has upgraded parking and traffic flow for its fall meet.

A photo from the mid-1900s shows lots of vehicles parked haphazardly in one of the parking areas at Keeneland. Save for the black-and-white and the vehicle models, it could have been taken last year.

“This is what it has been like for decades,” Keeneland president Nick Nicholson said with a laugh during a Sept. 29 breakfast at Keeneland. “People have been parking the way they want here for some time now.”

Not anymore. When the fall race meet begins Oct. 9, patrons will find new access and egress patterns, more parking staff, a tram system to transport them to the grandstand, and upgraded signage.

It’s part of a master plan that began last year. Declines in revenue have put major capital projects on hold, but parking and traffic access was doable.

The main entrance—now called Keeneland Drive—opposite Man o’ War Boulevard will have five lanes in and five out depending on the time of day. Other changes will be made as well.

Nicholson said Keeneland was told the changes could allow for one-third more vehicles in parking lots. “This is an area we feel is a victim of having increased crowds (in recent years),” he said.

Visitors to the tailgating area off Versailles Road also will find upgraded amenities including a larger wagering tent, improved restrooms, and flat-screen televisions.

Opening day will feature a later first post time of 2:15 p.m. EDT. After the final race at about 6:45 p.m. a 17-piece orchestra will play in front of the grandstand. There will be food and drink and specials during the event, called “Swinging at Sunset.”

Nicholson said the later post time is an experiment that could lead to a few changes during the 2010 spring meet. “We want to experiment with different post times to see if people want to stay here a little longer,” he said.

The meet begins with nine graded stakes—five of them grade I events—Oct. 9-11. The meet concludes Oct. 31.

Part of the film Secretariat is currently being shot at Keeneland. On hand for the Sept. 29 breakfast was actor James Cromwell, who will play Ogden Phipps, and Bill Johnson, the executive producer who served in the same capacity for Dreamer.

Keeneland is being cast as Belmont Park in the film.

“There is a larger group, and this is a more ambitious project,” Johnson said. “We’re doing something a little more on the level of Seabiscuit than Dreamer.”

The movie is to be released in 2010.