Keeneland

Lexington’s East End to throw 164-year-old horse race its first birthday party

Preeminent wins the 1937 Phoenix Handicap, named for the old Phoenix Hotel in downtown Lexington. This was the Spring Meet of 1937. First run in 1831 at the old Kentucky Association track, the Phoenix is the country's oldest stakes race.
Preeminent wins the 1937 Phoenix Handicap, named for the old Phoenix Hotel in downtown Lexington. This was the Spring Meet of 1937. First run in 1831 at the old Kentucky Association track, the Phoenix is the country's oldest stakes race.

On the eve of the 164th running of the Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland, the oldest Thoroughbred stakes race in the United States will be celebrated where it all began: Lexington’s East End and the Kentucky Association racetrack.

The Phoenix Stakes, named for the landmark Phoenix Hotel in downtown Lexington, originated at the Kentucky Association track in 1831. The 164th running of the race takes place Oct. 7 at Keeneland. But on Thursday, Oct. 6, the first ever Phoenix Festival will pay tribute to the Phoenix Stakes and the racetrack where it was born.

The Phoenix Festival begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden on East Third Street and is free and open to the public. It will feature, among other things, a photo exhibit of the Kentucky Association track, which closed in 1933, three years before Keeneland opened in 1936. Photos in the exhibit come from the Keeneland Library and the Kentucky Horse Park’s International Museum of the Horse.

James Long, a retired black jockey, will be the featured speaker at the festival. Long, who retired after riding for 33 years, has studied the history of black jockeys such as Isaac Murphy and Jimmy Winkfield. Lexington historian Yvonne Giles will talk about the track’s history.

The Phoenix Stakes is one of several races that originated at the Kentucky Association track and is still being run today. Keeneland’s Blue Grass Stakes, the Breeders’ Futurity and the Ashland Stakes all have their roots with the Kentucky Association track.

“There is so much history surrounding the Kentucky Association track that people don’t know about,” said Jim Embry, a member of Phoenix Rising, the group sponsoring the festival. “And what better place to have this celebration than at the Isaac Murphy garden, just a stone’s throw from where the racetrack stood in the historic East End.”

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