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Showcasing the Bluegrass’ best

By Esther Marr

While racing will take place at Keeneland, associated Breeders’ Cup events will be scheduled during the days leading up to the races.

The Breeders’ Cup World Championships is sure to thrill racing fans when the most elite Thoroughbreds on Earth compete Oct. 30-31 at Keeneland for the first time in the event’s 31-year history.

Another first will be the KentuckyOne Health Breeders’ Cup Festival Week, a diverse week of programming held prior to the competition. Designed to draw guests to the Bluegrass as well as engage locals in the festivities, the event will have an estimated $60 million regional economic impact.

“With so many people coming here to Lexington, as well as the 12 hours of television coverage (at Keeneland) on Friday and Saturday … folks are going to see we can support a major sporting event like Breeders’ Cup,” said Festival Executive Director Laura Prewitt. “We have the infrastructure, community involvement and the hospitality. In turn, people may give Lexington a second look as a venue when planning one of their major events.”

Mary Quinn Ramer, president of VisitLex, expects a long-term positive effect on Central Kentucky tourism.

“For racing fans who have never had an opportunity to experience Keeneland or tour one of the many farms we have around Central Kentucky, I’m confident they’ll be hooked and want to come back,” Ramer said. “We certainly anticipate making new friends and fans of the city.”

One Festival Week highlight will be “behind the scenes” experiences at Kentucky’s iconic stud operations, nurseries and world-renowned equine veterinary clinics via Horse Country Inc., a new not-for-profit dedicated to enabling aficionados to experience these famed locations.

Other programs throughout Breeders’ Cup Festival Week include free outdoor concerts nightly in both Courthouse Plaza and Cheapside Park, art exhibits and plays in various city venues, a Feeders’ Cup food truck competition, and the Kentucky for Kentucky 5K in which Halloween-savvy runners are encouraged to dress as their favorite Kentuckian.

“We know people are coming for horse racing, but we also know we have this really vibrant and energetic city to deliver,” Ramer added. “Whether their interests are local breweries, or the bourbon, culinary, and arts and culture scenes … we’re thrilled about the opportunity to welcome some of these folks into the mix and to keep them coming back for years to come.”

Breeders’ Cup could attract new residents to Lexington and new members to the Thoroughbred industry, said Vince Gabbert, Keeneland vice president and chief operating officer. The signature sector includes people who could live anywhere in the world, he said, “but they choose to make (Central Kentucky) home because of the horse and the impact the Thoroughbred has on our region, our state and on their livelihood.”

Breeders’ Cup media exposure and television coverage will open Central Kentucky up to an audience that may not have ever heard about or visited the area.

“The racetrack will be represented very well on those days with the great races and the full fields,” Gabbert said. “And this time of year in Lexington is already fun…(the TV coverage) will expose it to people that would never have otherwise heard about it. Breeders’ Cup is … a marketing opportunity for the entire commonwealth.”

Below are some of the highlights from the week, for more information and a complete schedule of events, click here.

KentuckyOne Health Breeders’ Cup Festival Week

Kentucky For Kentucky 5K Fun Run & Walk

2 p.m. Oct. 25, Kentucky Horse Park, 4089 Iron Works Parkway

Dress as your favorite Kentuckian (for $1,000 prize) or just enjoy the tree-lined, 25-furlong course (3.1 mile) through the heart of the park.

Thriller Parade

8 p.m. Oct. 25, downtown Lexington 

The world’s largest reenactment of the Michael Jackson’s epic video winds it way through downtown Lexington. Come and join 1,500 zombies and dancers at one of the country’s most unique events.

Sunrise Trackside at Keeneland

Oct. 25-28, Keeneland Race Track, 4201 Versailles Road

Watch early morning action trackside as Cup contenders put in final preparations. Free admission. Workout guest commentary. Breakfast available.

Kentucky Ale Stage

7 – 10 p.m. Oct. 25 – Oct. 31, Courthouse Plaza

Seven straight nights of free national and local musicians will perform on the Kentucky Ale Stage downtown in Courthouse Plaza.

Bourbon Backstretch

Oct. 28, 30-31, The Livery, 238 E. Main St.

Nine Kentucky Bourbon Trail distilleries entertain with tastings and other special offerings. Limited access.

Oliver Lewis Way Bridge Lighting & Fireworks

Oct. 28, Newtown Pike Extension at Main Street

The Breeders’ Cup jockey colony honors a historic rider as public art is unveiled, with fireworks and celebration in the Distillery District.

Feeders’ Cup 

Oct. 24, Whitaker Bank Ballpark

Food trucks from the region compete for prizes. Live music and other Kentucky goodies.

Breeders’ Cup Bash

Oct. 30-31, Red Mile, 1200 Red Mile Road

Watch the Breeders’ Cup races on screen, wager and celebrate with food, music and drink at the renovated Red Mile.

Horse Farm Tours

Morning and afternoon Oct. 25-28

“Behind the scenes” tours at various iconic stud operations, nurseries, world-renowned veterinary clinics and more. Tickets at breederscupfestival.com/horse-farm-tours-2.

Art Exhibits

Oct. 25-31, Fayette County

An unprecedented collaboration of Lexington’s art galleries presenting local, national and international artists.

Kentucky Ale Stage

Dusk until 10 p.m. Oct. 26-31, Courthouse Plaza, North Limestone and Main Street

National and local musicians will perform in the heart of downtown. Free.