Horses, history and hooch. Any tour of Kentucky Bluegrass country likely includes all three, as the state is home to many storied racing legends, as well as the birthplace of bourbon.
“On your first visit, you’ll definitely want to visit the Kentucky Horse Park,” notes Niki Heichelbech, media and communications manager for the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s the No. 1 attraction in this area, and we generally recommend you spend the day there.”
Here are some other Bluegrass standouts:
American Saddlebred Museum
The American Saddlebred Museum is devoted to telling the story of the breed’s past, present and future. Currently on display:Moments of Merit: Select Pieces of Saddlebred History. The museum also boasts the largest gathering of equine paintings by George Ford Morris on the planet. Iron Works Parkway, Lexington. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. $15 (age 13 and older), seniors $14, children 7–12 $8, children 6 and under free. (859) 259–2746 or www.americansaddlebredmuseum.org.
Buffalo Trace Distillery
Learn all about the process of creating Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, which gathers its flavor from the unique limestone deposits found in Bluegrass water, as well as the charred oak barrels used in the distilling process. Thanks to bourbon’s aroma, a distillery tour is a treat for the senses, full of aromatic copper and steel tanks, vanilla scents and caramel bouquets. 1001 Wilkinson Blvd., Franklin. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Tours start on the hour. Free. (502) 696-5926 or www.buffalotrace.com.
Churchill Downs/Kentucky Derby Museum
Churchill Downs, of course, is home to “the greatest two minutes in sports”: the annual Kentucky Derby. Visitors can enjoy interactive exhibits, which include getting the chance to play jockey on a pair of virtual horses. As you head to the finish line, be sure to sign up for a walking tour of Churchill Downs, the oldest continuously operated racetrack in America. Tours are conducted on the hour, weather permitting. 704 Central Ave., Louisville. Mondays through Saturdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum is closed Derby weekend, the first Friday and Saturday in May, and select other major race days. $12, seniors $11, children 13–18 $8, children 5-12 $5. (502) 637-1111 or www.derbymuseum.org.
Claiborne Farm, which has been in the Hancock family since its founding in the 1800s, is best known as the home of Secretariat, winner of the Triple Crown in 1973. The thoroughbred farm is a favorite of sheiks and other foreign visitors, including Queen Elizabeth II (who’s been here twice). Colts such as Monopoly Pricing and Fear No Darkness prance about with stallions such as Out of Place. 703 Winchester Road, Paris. Daily tours at 10 a.m. are free, but available by appointment only. (859) 987-2330 or www.claibornefarm.com.
Jim Beam’s American Outpost
The Visitors Center offers an abbreviated look at the bourbon-making process through exhibits that trace the 200-year history of the distilling family. All tours are self-guided. Free tastings are offered in a stately mansion once occupied by Jim Beam’s son. 149 Happy Hollow Road, Clermont. Mondays through Saturdays 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sundays 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. (no tastings on Sundays). Free. (502) 543-9877 or www.jimbeam.com.
Keeneland Race Course
Keeneland is a combination thoroughbred race course and sales location. Opened in 1936, the course is a National Historic Landmark. Races are held this year from April 3-24 and Oct. 9-31, while sales are held five times a year: Horses of all ages in January, 2-year-olds in April, yearlings in July and September, and breeding stock in November. 4201 Versailles Road, Lexington. Gates open in racing months Wednesdays through Saturdays at 11 a.m., with post time at 1:15 p.m., $3, reserved seating weekdays $6, weekends $8. (859) 254-3412 or www.keeneland.com.
Kentucky Horse Park
This 1,200-acre working horse farm is surrounded by 30 miles of white plank fencing and features nearly 50 different breeds of all sizes. The Man o’ War Memorial is a bronze sculpture honoring the champion famous for a 28-foot stride. (Such was the popularity of the horse that, when Man o’ War retired to stud in the Bluegrass, 1.3 million fans stopped by over the years to meet him.) A daily “Parade of Breeds” showcases the unique qualities of the different breeds and offers the chance for visitors to actually talk with costumed riders and pet the horses. The “Hall of Champions” pays tribute to the sport’s legends, while the Draft Horse Barn is home to the “Gentle Giants” — the team that pulls the park’s tour trolley. 4089 Iron Works Parkway, Lexington. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. March through October. $15, children 7-12 $8, children age 6 and under free. (859) 233-4303 or www.kyhorsepark.com.
This Six Flags theme park opened in 1990 with two roller coasters, Thunder Run and The Vampire. The park now boasts some 110 rides and attractions, including T2 (Terror to the Second Power), the first suspended looping coaster in North America; Chang, the world’s longest and tallest standup coaster; and — new in recent years — the Tornado ride in the Hurricane Bay waterpark (which is included in the general park admission). Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center, junction of I-65 and I-264, Louisville. Open varying hours April–October. $39.99, kids 48 inches and under $24.99. Kids 2 and under free. (800) SCREAMS or www.sixflags.com.
Kentucky Thoroughbred Center
This thoroughbred training facility features guided tours of the 1,000-plus stalls, paddocks and grass gallops. The behind-the-scenes tour is billed as “A Day in the Life of a Thoroughbred in Training.” And these folks definitely aren’t horsing around, as the center’s trainers prepare steeds for a dozen tracks around the country. 3380 Paris Pike, Lexington. Tours are offered at 9 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Cost is $10, $5 for kids age 12 and younger. (859) 293–1853 or www.thethoroughbredcenter.com.
The distillery is located on scenic 850-acre grounds framed by magnolias and sugar maples. In the gift gallery, you can buy a small bottle (if you’re 21 or older) and plunk it in the “dipping booth,” creating a customized red wax sealed bottle. 3350 Burks Spring Road, Loretto. Tours conducted Mondays through Saturdays on the half hour, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday tours conducted at 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. (No liquor sales on Sunday.) Free. (270) 865-2099 or www.makersmark.com.
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
Discover America’s largest restored Shaker community, a 3,000-acre National Historic Landmark that once housed members of the religious society. Your ticket includes a self-guided walking tour through the village, with its 14 restored villages and historic craft demonstrations. 3501 Lexington Road, Harrodsburg. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. $15 for ages 13 and above, $5 for children 6-12. (859) 734-5411 or www.shakervillageky.org.
Three Chimneys Farm
Three Chimneys Farm is a contender to win, place or show in any tour of the Bluegrass. Famous residents include the late Seattle Slew, Smarty Jones and the 2001 “Horse of the Year,” Point Given. Tours offered Tuesday through Saturday at 1 p.m. and include the stallion complex, breeding shed and mare receiving barn. 1981 Old Frankfort Pike, Versailles. $5. (859) 873–7053 or www.threechimneys.com.
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