Since its opening on Oct. 15, 1936, Keeneland has prided itself on hosting some of the best Thoroughbreds ever to race. Indeed, the list of champions who have appeared on the Lexington oval would about span the length of Keeneland's stretch.
With the picturesque track celebrating its 75th season and its 2011 fall meet beginning Friday, we have narrowed down — in no particular order, mind you — what we consider the 25 best horses to have raced at Keeneland.
KEENELAND'S TOP 25 HORSES
Some of these picks are obvious, some not so much. And even though all of these stalwarts ran at least once at Keeneland, some of the greatest names on this list found their luck to be on the hard side whenever they arrived on the 11⁄16-mile track.
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Let the debate about who is not on here begin.
Spectacular Bid: Widely considered one of the greatest racehorses ever, "The Bid" had the misfortune of starting his career during a decade that produced three Triple Crown winners. Included in Spectacular Bid's streak of 12 straight wins in 1979 before his loss in the Belmont Stakes was his victory in that season's Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. Only three challengers showed up to face him that day in Lexington. He made a mockery of the race, winning by 7 lengths.
Alydar: The racing world will forever link Alydar with his nemesis, 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed. However, Alydar's 13-length victory in that year's Blue Grass Stakes was his defining triumph, and the image of jockey Jorge Velasquez presenting Alydar to his aging owners before the race ranks as one of Keeneland's indelible moments.
Northern Dancer: Before becoming one of the most influential sires in history, the Canada-bred dynamo carved out a Hall of Fame racing career that saw him win 14 of 18 career starts. His win in the 1964 Blue Grass Stakes marked the beginning of his partnership with jockey Bill Hartack. The two would go on to capture the Kentucky Derby in a record time of 2:00, which stood until Secretariat bested the mark in 1973.
Whirlaway: The 1941 Triple Crown winner made six starts at Keeneland, including his triumph in the 1940 Breeders' Futurity, a key victory considering that the colt had developed a bad habit of bolting to the outside in his races. Whirlaway also ran second in the 1941 Blue Grass Stakes.
Round Table: Widely considered the greatest turf horse in history, the 1958 Horse of the Year won all five of his career starts at Keeneland, including the 1956 Breeders' Futurity and 1957 Blue Grass Stakes.
Bewitch: There is a reason this Calumet Farm-owned champion has a Keeneland stakes race named for her. The daughter of Bull Lea broke her maiden at the track in 1947 and went on to capture the 1948 Ashland, one of her four stakes wins as a 3-year-old.
Go for Wand: Her Hall of Fame-making 3-year-old season kicked off at Keeneland, where she won the 1990 Beaumont Stakes by 81/2 lengths and the Ashland Stakes by 5 lengths. The Ashland was the first of what would be six Grade I wins for the champion filly that year.
Alysheba: His record shows that Alysheba won at eight tracks during his Hall of Fame career, but in fact, the 1988 Horse of the Year crossed the wire first at nine. Alysheba finished first in the 1987 Blue Grass Stakes but was disqualified and placed third for interference in the stretch. The class Alysheba showed that day proved indisputable weeks later when he captured the Kentucky Derby.
Take Charge Lady: The daughter of Dehere won't go down as an all-time great, but at Keeneland, she conquered all comers. Take Charge Lady was 5 for 5 at Keeneland and earned all three of her Grade I wins there, including the 2002 Ashland Stakes and back-to-back victories in the 2002 and 2003 Spinster.
Ack Ack: Whether on turf, dirt, sprinting or running long, Ack Ack was one of the best of his generation. The 1971 Horse of the Year graced Keeneland with his versatility in 1969, when he won the Forerunner Stakes, going 7 furlongs on the main track.
Riva Ridge: Many know him as Secretariat's older stablemate, but Riva Ridge was a champion in his own right. He took the 1972 Blue Grass Stakes by 4 lengths and went on to win that year's Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.
Coaltown: Yet another great champion who raced in the shadows, Coaltown was the stablemate of 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation. He didn't get the glory Citation did, but Coaltown set records at a variety of distances, including his win in the 1948 Blue Grass Stakes in 1:491⁄5, a record time at the time.
Azeri: By the time Azeri arrived at Keeneland for her penultimate career start in the 2004 Spinster, she already had locked up her place in history, courtesy of her 2002 Horse of the Year title. The Spinster provided the daughter of Jade Hunter her final career triumph as she rolled to her 11th Grade I victory.
Arts and Letters: The 1969 Horse of the Year is known for his dominance in New York, but he still holds the record for the largest margin of victory in the Blue Grass Stakes, taking the 1969 edition by 15 lengths.
Bayakoa: Durable and talented as they come, Bayakoa was the champion older female in 1989 and 1990. In each of those seasons, she used victories in the Spinster to set her up for her Breeders' Cup Distaff wins.
Forego: His eight Eclipse Awards, including three Horse of the Year titles, make the grand gelding one of racing's immortals — even if he looked ordinary during his fifth-place finish in the 1973 Blue Grass Stakes.
Challedon: The pride of Maryland and Horse of the Year honoree in 1939 and 1940 set a world record at Keeneland during his 3-year-old season when he took the Tranter Purse in 1:543⁄5 for 11⁄16 miles.
Holy Bull: What happened during his 12th-place finish in the 1994 Kentucky Derby might always be a mystery, but Keeneland saw the eventual Horse of the Year in his typical effortless form when he led every step of that year's Blue Grass Stakes.
Lure: The two-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner finished second in the 1992 Lexington Stakes on dirt and then showcased his much more impressive form on grass for Keeneland fans when he took the 1994 Elkhorn Stakes.
Princess Rooney: The champion older female of 1984 didn't have many off days — and she had some of her best days at Keeneland. Her 4-for-4 record at the track included wins in the 1983 Ashland and the 1984 Spinster.
Skip Away: The Hall of Fame horse who would win 10 Grade I races in his career didn't earn his first stakes victory until he won the 1996 Blue Grass Stakes by 6 lengths.
Tim Tam: The regally bred hero of the 1958 Forerunner Stakes at Keeneland could have been a Triple Crown winner had he not broken a leg in that year's Belmont Stakes and finished second.
Paseana: Included in the champion mare's 10 career Grade I wins was her triumphant effort in the 1993 Spinster, avenging a runner-up finish in that race the year before.
John Henry: Who knew that the fourth-place finisher in a Keeneland allowance race on April 11, 1978, would go on to become a two-time Horse of the Year, in 1981 and 1984, and a seven-time Eclipse Award winner, and would retire as the richest Thoroughbred of all time?
Inside Information: Despite being hindered by back problems, the Hall of Fame mare won 14 of her 17 career starts, including the 1994 Ashland Stakes and 1995 Spinster at Keeneland.