When Keeneland hosted A Taste of the Races in late March, it had been nearly two years since the track hosted a spring meet, usually as sure a sign of that season as flowers blooming and days getting warmer. Given the hiatus of the spring meet in 2020, postponed like so many planned 2020 events, this year’s Taste of the Races felt like a swing of the pendulum back to a little bit of normality. And to see the flags bearing the track’s name and numbers akin to post position numbers on flagpoles in downtown Lexington was a welcome sight indeed. How I’ve missed that track and attending the races there!
Prior to the store opening for the Taste of the Races sale, I wandered the grounds and watched the horses train. I drove through gate 1, nothing that would have merited mention before, but as it was off-limits for so much of last year, it was wonderful to take the long drive to the track entrance and begin to soak in the ambience. Horse racing is not everything, of course, when so much has been disrupted in an unprecedented situation for many who have never faced a pandemic on this scale, but seeing a gate that was never off-limits before and knowing that a tradition will return is even more welcome after all the recent uncertainty. Making that long drive was a chance to savor the sights of a stage set for all that Keeneland does so well, and the caliber of horses and performances who will leave their marks in their races in the next few weeks.
As the number of horses on track was less than expected, I observed maintenance crews tidying the walking ring and painting steps near the jockey garden, and it all pointed to signs of the welcome to be extended to fans for the first time more widespread attendance will be possible since October 2019.
While it naturally will still be limited, that they can host fans again is wonderful, and hopefully the pendulum keeps swinging towards more of what we once knew, even if in a somewhat altered format, in the months to come.
It will be interesting to see how Keeneland manages this first post-pandemic April meet. I know it will be with the level of emphasis on the experience always offered. I already know distinctions will be that benches cannot be moved from their arranged positions, carefully placed to achieve social distancing, that no walk-up ticket sales are offered. I am still curious to see how the patrons will be guided to adhere to COVID protocols. But more than anything, being there for the races again will be the overriding experience to soak in and I am grateful it is possible. Here’s to a wonderful spring meet!