By: Charlene & Richard Mixa
The “Horse Capital of the World” is a Must See!
Whoa! Hold on to your horses, Lexington, Kentucky reins as the “Horse Capital of the World!” Surrounded by the Bluegrass Country’s rolling meadows, thoroughbred race horses, and a thriving downtown, Lexington is an exciting “destination” city. Within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the population of the United States, it is strategically located at the intersection of interstates 64 and 75. Yet, most travelers trot by this dynamic city, just stopping overnight or grabbing some chow. Attention all travelers! Park your saddlebags for a few days and experience some good old Southern hospitality in Lexington. “Must do’s” for us are the Kentucky Horse Park, a horse farm tour, and golf all easily convenient to our accommodations at the Griffin Gate Marriott Resort & Spa.
Stop for a visit the Kentucky Horse Park
It’s all about horses! This massive park is dedicated to all breeds of horses. For over 55-million years horses have roamed the world. The International Horse Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, educates us on the various breeds including Throroughbreds, Arabians, Saddlebreds, and draft horses. Each exhibit, painting, and display enchants us with the impact and legacy horses have made on cultures and nations over the centuries. Absolutely fantastic! Aboard the horse-drawn trolley, the short tour gives a good overview of the park, attractions, and daily activities. Excitement of the racetrack is found at the Hall of Fame Show. After a thrilling winning- race video of Thoroughbred legend Cigar, Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide, and Standardbred Pacers Western Dreamer and Staying Together, each beautiful championship horse proudly struts into the arena. With music and pageantry, authentically-costumed riders show the unique characteristics of selected breeds at the Parade of Breeds in an outdoor show ring. Watching these elegant animals, we gain a whole new insight for the world of horses. Strolling the Park we watch a blacksmith shoeing a horse and admire the Clydesdales along with other “work” horses at the Big Barn. Dedicated to the American Saddlebred, Kentucky’s native breed, is the fabulous American Saddlebred Museum. The Kentucky Horse Park is terrific!
Climb Aboard – The Unique Horse Tours
Boarding the van at the Horse Park, Shaun Washington, driver, guide, and owner, of Unique Horse Tours takes us on a fascinating and entertaining tour of Kentucky’s fabled horse farms. Shaun enthralls us with stories and tales of thoroughbred racing, owners, managers, jockeys, and betting as well as the challenges of equine breeding and raising race horses. Stud farms are the moneymakers. At the Windstar Farms, we see champion horses whose entire life is only to impregnate the mares. A Derby winner’s few million dollar prize is just “horse feed” compared to a stud fee of $100,000 per mare, mating three times a day, seven days a week basically year round in both the U.S. and South America for many years. Shaun explains the rather complex breeding process which requires carefully protecting both the stallion and the mare. Mares and foals are raised at the Katierich Farm, where we pet these friendly moms and their babies, while learning the impressive lineage of the foals. Our final stop is Hurricane Hall where several mares are in the fields with their foals. Shaun shares a wealth of information on our tour giving insight on raising horses and racing horses as well as behind-the-scenes stories of owners, the horse farms, and the thoroughbred racehorses. The horse farm tour is an experience we will long remember.
Impressive bloodlines are not unique to horses. The Griffin Gate Golf Club has its own lineage being designed by renowned architect, Rees Jones, son of the revered Robert Trent Jones. With an early morning tee time, we experience this prestigious, award-winning golf course transformed from a cattle farm and carefully sculpted from Kentucky’s rolling hills. While it may not be Kentucky bluegrass, the greens are some of the finest we’ve played. Fairways are open and follow the gentle rolling terrain with several uphill and downhill holes adding extra challenges. Ugh! Deep, thick grass along the fairways, around bunkers and greens isn’t tall fescue, but balls nestle down in it making them hard to find and to extract. Tee boxes are graciously adorned with blooming red rose bushes in keeping with the Kentucky Derby as “The Run for the Roses.” On Hole No. 7, we stop to admire the scenic view of the green and adjacent bunker with blooming roses off to the sides and a rustic bridge in the distance. Enjoy the beautiful scenery but “focus” on your putts to avoid three-putt greens. Plenty of bunkers guard the green on No. 17. Approaching the “finish line” on eighteenth hole are terrific views of the hotel and the golf course. Fun, demanding course in excellent condition, it will be a thoroughbred winner for players of all skill levels. After golf, our tasty sandwiches are terrific at the 19th Hole Eatery.
Stay at a Winning Resort – The Griffin Gate Marriott Resort & Spa
Experience unparalleled sophistication and discover a resort that’s a breed above at the Griffin Gate Marriott, a Lexington resort hotel. For us it is welcoming urban oasis with, an award-winning golf course, superb dining, and a luxurious full-service spa. The expansive Resort has all the amenities expected of Forbes Four-Star hotel and is conveniently located near the interstates, Kentucky Horse Park and downtown making it terrific base for exploring Lexington. Our corner room is warmly and comfortably decorated in a resort-style lodging even having the feel of home with Tempur-Pedic bedding. Scenic views of the sprawling golf course and the gentle rolling terrain of Kentucky are visible from the room. Our accommodations include access to the Resort’s Concierge Lounge offering gracious Southern hospitality of complimentary delicious breakfast of hot and cold items each morning and expansive array of delectable hors d’oeuvres each evening. The evening spread is easily a light dinner! After our busy days, we like cooling off in either the huge glass covered indoor pool or the elegant outdoor pool with its multiple decks for relaxing and sunbathing. Eateries are varied including Top Deck – poolside, the 19th Hole, JW’s Lounge, the Starbuck’s Coffee Shop and upscale dining at JW’s Steakhouse featuring a selection of classic wines and Angus steaks. Whether dining at the hotel or Lexington’s local restaurants treat yourself to JW’s Steakhouse award winning “Kentucky Bourbon Butter Cake.” The finale to our Lexington visit – it is yummy, scrumptious, delectable and decadent.
If you go: Lexington has a wide array of activities to explore. Downtown Lexington, the “City in the Park,” offers great sightseeing, dining, shopping and entertainment. So much more than “just horses” the bustling city is rich with historic sites to visit such as the Mary Todd Lincoln House and Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate. Our recommendation is a full day at the Horse Park, a second day do the Horse Tour in the morning and maybe Ashland in the afternoon, golf or sip along the Bourbon Trail. We really enjoyed a tour at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. Take a day or at least a full afternoon and evening to explore downtown.
Griffin Gate Marriott Resort & Spa, 1800 Newtown Pike · Lexington, Kentucky 40511 USA; 859.231.5100; www.griffingatemarriott.com
Kentucky Horse Park, 4089 Iron Works Parkway, Lexington, KY 40511; 800.678.8813; www.KyHorsePark.com
Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, 401 W Main St., Lexington, KY 40507; 800.845.3959; www.visitlex.com
Unique Horse Farm Tours (can also arrange through the Kentucky Horse Park); 859-233-4303; www.uniquehorsefarmtours.com