For the test run of the Breeders' Cup on Thursday, Keeneland showed its finest colors, from the russet of fall foliage to the purple and yellow mums placed strategically around the property. Known for the perfection of its branding, Keeneland even got the gold of the sun to beam after two days of torrential rain.
What it didn't get were the hordes of people expected for the official Breeders' Cup races on Friday and Saturday — numerous seats in the grandstand and tables in the clubhouse sat empty, and there was plenty of room for fans to mingle around the paddock and near the rail.
They got a less populated view of the many temporary buildings put up for Breeders' Cup, a line of luxury suites stretching from the clubhouse almost to Versailles Road.
Lindsay Hickerson of Lexington enjoyed the shelter of the Maker's Mark Lounge, where people who bid on the special Maker's Mark Champions for Charity bottles sat.
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"It's gorgeous as always, but this is the next level," she said.
"It's like a normal day, only much bigger," said her fiancé Adam Seiber.
Jodie Bella-Gregory traveled from the Santa Anita racetrack in California, site of previous and future Breeders' Cups. She's the luxury suites manager, and despite Santa Anita's experience with the event, she said she was looking for ideas.
"They're doing a great job," she said. "We just want to see how hospitality is done, to see how different people do it."
Christa Marrillia, Keeneland's marketing director, said attendance for the day was 11,818. She said light attendance was probably a combination of factors, including work on Thursday and people who didn't get the message that they could park for $5 instead of using the much-advertised shuttle system.
"You have a fair amount of people who are preparing to come out for two long days," she said. "There's some people who are maybe not able to break away from work on Thursday and Friday."
Marrillia said that overall operations appeared to be going smoothly.
Alan Held did get the message about parking; he came to Keeneland because western Nebraska has practically no experience of Thoroughbred racing, and he wanted his students to see it. A high school teacher in Scottsbluff, Held brought six students to the Future Farmers of America in Louisville this weekend, so they decided to come to Lexington for the day.
"This is a chance in a lifetime for the kids," he said.
The day started early for fans, many of whom arrived pre-dawn to watch the actual Breeders' Cup competitors work out. Still, the first Breeders' Cup at Keeneland stirred plenty of excitement for locals and visitors. Former council member Chuck Ellinger said he hoped the organizers would be impressed enough with Keeneland and the numerous activities in Lexington that they'd bring it back again. Even though Thursday looked like a normal day at Keeneland — albeit with purple banners everywhere — "this is not a typical day that Lexington has ever experienced."