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Keep Keeneland green, fans say

A crowd of about 125 racing fans — Keeneland fans — turned out Monday night to tell the track how it can change for the better.

The main messages: leave it green, but add more toilets.

The racetrack and sales company announced earlier this month that it has hired architecture firm HOK Sport to develop a master plan for expansion. Track president Nick Nicholson said HOK has been asked to consider such things as expanded gambling and how the small track could host a Breeders' Cup championship.

But Nicholson stressed that the primary focus is making the present Keeneland experience better. "We're growing faster than our facility," he said. "There's a lot that's not up to Keeneland standards."

Last year the track had total attendance of 477,000 — and most of them had no place to sit down.

"That makes for a long four hours," Nicholson said. So the goal is to shorten the lines to the food, the betting windows and the restrooms.

HOK Sport senior principal Russ Simons said his company understands Keeneland is special.

"We really have no preconceived notion of what we're going to recommend," Simons told the crowd in the sales pavilion. Which is why hearing from the people is important, he said.

The Keeneland board meets in October and Nicholson said he's sure some kind of update will be on the agenda. He would not put a budget figure or timetable on the project.

"We want it finished when it's finished. It's more important to get it done right," he said. "They (HOK Sport) think they can have it done this year."

Those who turned out urged those making the decisions to leave the stables area open; keep the sight lines to the paddock; and upgrade the simulcasting experience.

"I would like to see you modernize the inside of your building any way you can," said Norma Adams of Frankfort. "But please leave the outside rustic and green."

Nicholson said the plan is to add seating but not tamper with Keeneland's "soul."

Simons pointed to the access road that runs behind the paddock, cutting off the patio from the action, as an example of the kinds of thing that could bear improving.

The public can continue to submit ideas by e-mailing masterplanideas@keeneland.com.

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