Keeneland cheat sheet: where to get bread pudding, how to place a bet, more

Kenneth Lewis, from Jamaica, held a horse while Julie Johnson gave him a bath, following a pre-dawn workout at the Keeneland Race Course before the 2011 fall meet. The 2012 fall meet begins Oct. 5. Charles Bertram | Staff
Kenneth Lewis, from Jamaica, held a horse while Julie Johnson gave him a bath, following a pre-dawn workout at the Keeneland Race Course before the 2011 fall meet. The 2012 fall meet begins Oct. 5. Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

Are you a Keeneland expert? Want to seem like one? We're here to help. With the information below, you can wow your visiting friends and family when you take them to the track for the fall meet. Just don't let it go to your head and bet the farm.


■ Even if you haven't read Seabiscuit, you can probably tell that a racehorse in the paddock is one excited animal. Take a prey animal, get it very fit and then add an exuberant crowd, and you have a recipe for skittish.

■ If you want to take a good picture, don't use a flash. Here's why: Horses' eyes are among the largest of any modern mammal and capable of reflecting light onto the retina, making horses' vision extremely good in poor light and extremely poor in bright light. That is why they are active at dawn and dusk, and why they hate flashes from a camera.

■ Stay on the left. Thoroughbreds, which are handled from birth, are taught early on that most everything will be done on their left side — they're led from the left and mounted from the left. So try to stand on a horse's left side as it passes.


■ If you're a betting novice, you can have a lot of fun with the basic $2 bet. The most simple bet: Pick a horse that you think might win the race, then go to the betting window and say, "In the first race, $2 to win on Excalibur (or whatever the horse's name is)."

■ If you want to give yourself a little wiggle room in case the horse doesn't come in first, say: "$2 across the board" and hand over $6. That way, you're covered if the horse comes first, second ("place") or third ("show").

■ A little more adventurous — or can't make up your mind? Then "box an exacta," which means you are betting Excalibur to win and King Arthur to place, or vice versa. A $2 exacta box will cost you $4 because you are really placing two bets. This can be a good strategy to use with a favorite: Box the horse with the shortest odds with another one.

■ When you're looking at odds, keep in mind that they are based on how many people have bet on a particular horse. So 50-to-1 means very few other bettors think that long shot will win.

■ Confused by odds? Can't tell which horse would pay more? Remember those fractions your middle school math teacher swore you would need someday? This is that time. If the tote board shows just one number for each horse, then that is how much you would be paid for every dollar you bet if that horse won (plus your original bet, so $2 at 5-to-1 would pay you $12.) If it shows two numbers, then the first is payout, the second is how many dollars you have to bet to get that.

■ Keeneland has decided to save your brain: This year, it is adding decimal odds to the tote boards, so you will be able to see exactly what your payout will be per dollar. As in: "A $1 bet on 9 to win will pay $44.50."

■ And to make it even easier, Keeneland is dropping the minimum win/place/show bet to $1 each, or $3 across the board.

■ Keeneland also offers fractional wagering, so if you cash a ticket and want to plow it right back into the next race, you can do that, and they will spread it around evenly for you.

■ If you really want to impress your party, go to the Wagering Central kiosk in the grandstand on the first floor and get a FastBet app on your smartphone to bet right from the rail.


■ You will score big host points if you know where to find Keeneland's bourbon bread pudding, burgoo or corned beef.

■ If you're feeling flush, make reservations online while you can for the Phoenix Room's buffet. It's $40 a person, minimum of four, every day except Saturday, when it's $45.

■ Hit a big winner and celebrate with bread pudding from the Mane Street Wraps stand on the second floor, overlooking the paddock. It's $4.25. (Mane Street Wraps also has Cobb salads, which apparently everyone always asks for, Keeneland says.)

■ As it has since 1936, Keeneland's food, including the bread pudding, comes from Turf Catering, which introduced bread pudding to the main dining room in the 1980s and to concession stands about 10 years ago. Turf Catering uses Sister Schubert rolls for the pudding's bread and Maker's Mark bourbon for the sauce. It makes 6,000 pounds of bread pudding and 50 gallons of bourbon sauce each week.

■ For Turf Catering's recipe, go to, under "Discover Keeneland." Warning: The sauce recipe calls for a full pound of butter; this is not the time to worry about calories.

■ You can find burgoo, Kentucky's version of meat stew, at pretty much every concession stand for $4.75. For corned beef, go to the first-floor Paddock Carvery. Keeneland cooks all of its own corned beef and slices it to order. It's $6.75 for a corned beef sandwich, $7 for a Reuben.

■ For barbecue, the Blue Moon BBQ stand on the third floor overlooking the track has pulled pork, including barbecue pork nachos, and sliced beef brisket.

■ For vegetarian options, try Blue Cactus Cantina on the second floor, overlooking the North Terrace.

■ Brats & Brews are sold on the first floor, along with chicken fritter skewers and homemade kettle chips, at the stand in front of the tote board. Most concession stands also have all-beef hot dogs (Turf Catering serves about 10,000 a week), nachos, chili, pretzels, popcorn and soft-serve ice cream.


■ Keeneland's dirt track isn't covered in dirt. It's the synthetic material called Polytrack. The surface, a blend of fibers, recycled rubber and silica sand, was put on Keeneland's track in 2006. It was installed on its training track in 2004.

■ The track is 11⁄16 miles long and has two finish lines. Keeneland is the only major track in the country with two finish lines.

■ The winner's circle in front of the grandstand was built in anticipation of Queen Elizabeth II's visit in 1984. Previously, trophy presentations were across the track, on the turf course. Today's winner's circle was built so her majesty wouldn't have to walk across the dirt.


■ This is Keeneland's 76th fall meet.

■ The track holds only a few weeks of racing each year, in the spring and in the fall. So, what does it do with all those barns the rest of the time? It trains and sells horses. Racehorses in training are stabled year-round at the Rice Road training center. In January, April, September and November, Keeneland holds horse auctions, which are shows in themselves. Trainers and horse breeders from all over the globe come to Keeneland, especially in September for yearlings and November for breeding stock.

■ The track was founded in 1935 by local horse breeders and trainers, with Hal Price Headley as president. The first race meet was in fall 1936.

■ During World War II, when restrictions were placed on travel, the breeders couldn't ship horses to New York to sell at Saratoga, as had been customary. So in 1943, Keeneland set up a tent and a paddock and began selling horses.

■ Keeneland also raced at Churchill Downs for two years during World War II because of the ban on travel.

■ Keeneland's unusual "two over two" stonework stems from the original "barn/mansion" built by Jack Keene on his Keeneland Stud Farm before he sold the 147½ acres that became the track. Keene designed the building that is now the clubhouse. Where the paddock is, he planned and partially built a covered, stone-walled training track.

■ If you really want to show off your Keeneland lore, point out the cast-iron post with the gold "KA" at the track entrance. Although it currently represents the Keeneland Association, the post came from Lexington's previous racetrack, the Kentucky Association, which was slightly northeast of downtown.

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