|(all photos Eclipse Sportswire)|
The Royal Wedding at Westminster Abbey might have top billing for many around the world during the last week in April, but in the horse world, all eyes will be on Lexington, Kentucky.
The week before the Kentucky Derby holds a special place for Lexingtonians and for the thousands who invade to watch the races at Keeneland Race Course, to tour the many breeding farms and to attend the Rolex Three-Day Event at the Kentucky Horse Park. The area is a veritable triple threat for the equestrian in anyone.
The Rolex 3-Day Event is the only 4-Star competition in the United States, and its home is the Kentucky Horse Park. For the uninitiated, Eventing is three or four day horse trial where competitors take a single horse through three equestrian disciplines - Dressage, Cross Country and Stadium Jumping. It is ranked in increasing degrees of difficulty with 4-Star being the highest and on par with the Olympics.
The 2011 revival of Rolex at the Horse Park, will be the 34th time the event is held and the 13th time it is being held as a 4-Star. Senior eventer and former Olympian Bruce Davidson has won the competition six times.
Tickets for Rolex can be purchased at http://www.rk3de.org/ for $60 for a four-day pass, with reserved seating for Dressage and Stadium jumping only an additional $15-20 premium.
The entire event is tremendous, but the Cross Country discipline on Saturday is worth the price of admission. Visitors are allowed to wander the rolling countryside that makes up the Kentucky Horse Park and get close enough to feel the ground shake as these great horses and riders go through the paces. A popular viewing location is the Rolex water obstacle, where many rush to stake their claim as soon at the gates open.
But eventing isn’t the only equine draw in Lexington in the Spring. The Keeneland Spring Meet features 16 stakes races, totaling more than $3.4 million in purses. “The racing world converges on Keeneland in the spring because they know this is where the best jockeys, trainers and horses will be, and they want to compete at the highest level,” according to Keeneland Director of Racing W.B. Rogers Beasley in a press release.
Included in those race days, which average more than $600,000 in purses, will be the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, a major Kentucky Derby prep. There are also three other Grade 1 races during the 15-day meet. Whether it is for morning workouts, the two-year-olds in training sale or a regular day of racing, the Keeneland facility is picturesque and a must-visit. Keeneland, founded in 1935, was named as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
In addition to the competition, there are more than 150 farms in the Central Kentucky Horse Region to tour. Among the favorites, both for their scenery and for outstanding stallions are Three Chimneys, Darley at Jonabell, Claiborne, WinStar, Darby Dan, Lanes End, Calumet, Coolmore, Gainesway and, of course, the home for many retired greats Old Friends. Many of these will allow you to book at tour to see your favorite horses. Here are some of them and the farms where they stand:
Darley at Jonabell - Medaglia D’Oro, Street Cry, Hard Spun, Bernardini
Claiborne - Arch. Blame, Pulpit
WinStar - Distorted Humor, Speightsown, Tiznow
Lanes End - A.P. Indy, Candy Ride, Curlin, Smart Strike
Coolmore -Giant’s Causeway, Lookin At Lucky
Gainesway - Tapit, Birdstone, Afleet Alex
And don’t forget to visit the retired thoroughbreds at Old Friends Equine, including the gorgeous Bull in the Heather, the speedy Ogygian and the pensioned stallion Sunshine Forever.
Beyond the horses, the Lexington area offers so much more. For visitors, a good starting point is visiting http://www.visitlex.com. Included in their suggestions are distillery tours for such famous Kentucky Bourbon producers as Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace, Four Roses and Wild Turkey.
And the bonus, depending how you plan your visit, could be finishing up your visit in Lexington by driving an hour to the west to Louisville and attending Kentucky Derby Festival activities. All this culminating in the Run for the Roses on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.