By Allison Antram
In an August 2017 Chicago Tribune article, writer Patti Nickell recounted her unique and “giddy” experience in Lexington, getting to meet the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, American Pharoah. She raved, “What better way to quench the public’s thirst for all things equine than to show them the rarefied atmosphere of Thoroughbred raising and racing in the Horse Capital of the World?”
Central Kentucky’s signature equine industry is starting to show off some rippling, horse-related tourism muscles. The list of attractions surrounding the graceful, four-legged steeds continues to grow in Central Kentucky. Each year brings in new wave of industry excitement and experiences to cater to visitors, who equate to more inbound dollars from people who don’t even necessarily want to be involved in breeding, betting or sales.
An important recent development is Horse Country Inc., an organization of farms, clinics and even a feed mill that are open to the public for visits. Horse Country curates unique visitor experiences, such as getting to meet the legendary American Pharoah.
“It’s fun to see how delighted people are when they select a nursery, clinic, feed mill or aftercare location,” Executive Director Anne Hardy said. “We have the ability to tell the story from foaling barn to finish line … and beyond!”
Although still a start-up, Horse Country’s ability to tell visitors a story is expanding its business. Hardy reported ticket sales trending 30 to 40 percent ahead for 2017 versus 2016. It continues adding both new experiences and new members to offer tours.
The success of Horse Country captures the appeal of the equine industry, as it has “hosted guests from 16 countries in addition to the United States, and we’ve seen U.S. guests from all 50 states,” Hardy said. “Most of them stay for two to three days and are also engaging the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and other equine-related attractions like Keeneland and the Kentucky Horse Park.”
VisitLEX reports that “information on visiting a horse farm has been the number one request of those planning their trip to town.”
“Over the last five years, we’ve seen growth across all aspects of the hospitality industry,” said Mary Quinn Ramer, president of VisitLEX.
“We know that today’s travelers crave authenticity, and … there is no surprise that many visitors want an authentic equine experience while visiting Lexington.”
One of the more prominent equine attractions is the Kentucky Horse Park, which reports nearly 1 million annual visitors and generates more than $3.2 million from the 200 events it hosts each year. Getting “up close and personal” with the horses makes their experience stand out.
Enduring star appeal
“The Kentucky Horse Park is the world’s only park dedicated to man’s relationship with the horse,” said Executive Director Laura Prewitt. “It is also one of Kentucky’s largest working horse farms, and one of the nation’s leading competition facilities.”
Park visitation generated nearly $131.4 million for Kentucky’s economy in 2016 alone.
This year, however, has an entirely different appeal, as the Kentucky Horse Park celebrates the 100th Anniversary of Man o’ War.
“Man o’ War is an American icon, born in Kentucky, who would go on to capture the country’s imagination as well as 20 of 21 starts in his racing career. Visitors can celebrate the life of this great racehorse by visiting his beautiful grave site at the Kentucky Horse Park and marveling at the recently-restored statue that marks his burial ground,” said Prewitt. “Many people don’t realize that he’s actually buried here at the Kentucky Horse Park.”
The various promotions have boosted attendance by 11 percent from last year.
The 100-year anniversary has piqued visitor interest in other local businesses and farms as well.
Held every May, the Horse Capital Marathon also benefits from the celebration, as the race runs past more than 75 horse farms including Mount Brilliant Farm, which is not only a runner favorite, but was also home to Man o’ War.
Horse Capital Marathon President Bob Baney noted that during this unique race, “runners are literally never out of sight of a horse farm for 26.2 miles, so we get lots of comments about the beauty and scenery.
Many major draws to see
Central Kentucky’s equine industry, while holding consistent and prominent tourism interest, continues to grow and evolve, offering more unique experiences that delight and inspire visitors.
Formerly the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, the Kentucky Three-Day Event is a nearly 40-year tradition in Central Kentucky. Sport horse enthusiasts come from around the world to celebrate the prestigious event.
Other iconic Central Kentucky equine attractions like the newly remodeled Red Mile and the always popular Keeneland continue to draw more visitors and contribute to overall spending in the Bluegrass.
Keeneland’s 2017 Fall Meet, from Oct. 6-28, will present six Grade 1 races among 17 graded stakes worth $5.325 million and will showcase many of the nation’s top contenders aiming for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships during its signature Fall Stars Weekend on the first three days of the season.
Keeneland’s 2017 Spring Meet celebrated exceptional racing, enhanced food and hospitality offerings, one-of-a-kind special events and robust attendance. Average daily attendance of 16,816 was just above with a 2016 Spring Meet average of 16,387. Average daily on-track wagering of $1,177,932 was up from $1,123,431 in 2016.
Thoroughbred, Standardbred sales
Festival of the Horse
Thoroughbred racing, sales
Collection of racing archives
Kentucky Three-Day Event
Prestigious equine competition
Lexington Junior League Charity Horse Show
Historic Saddlebred event
The Red Mile
Asbury College Equine Studies
Wilmore – asbury.edu
Georgetown College Equine Scholars Program
Kentucky Equine Management Internship Program
Kentucky Horseshoeing School
Richmond – kentuckyhorseshoeingschool.com
Midway College Equine Studies
North American Racing Academy
Equine workforce education
The Race for Education
University of Kentucky Ag Equine Programs
EQUINE RESCUE & ADOPTION
Kentucky Equine Humane Center
Old Friends Farm
Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center
University of Kentucky
Hagyard Equine Medical Institute
Lexington Equine Surgery & Sports Medicine
Park Equine Hospital
Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital
Woodford Equine Hospital
Versailles – parkequinehospital.com