Keeneland was founded in 1935 as a nonprofit racing–auction entity on 147 acres (0.59 km2) of farmland west of Lexington, which had been owned by Jack Keene, a driving force behind the building of the facility. It has used proceeds from races and its auctions to further the thoroughbred industry as well as to contribute to the surrounding community. The racing side of Keeneland, Keeneland Race Course, has conducted live race meets in April and October since 1936.
It added a grass course in 1985. The spring meet contains several preps for the Kentucky Derby (held the first Saturday in May), the most notable of which is the Blue Grass Stakes. The fall meet features several Breeders’ Cup preps.
Keeneland takes pride in maintaining racing traditions; it was the last track in North America to broadcast race calls over its public-address system, not doing so until 1997. Most of the racing scenes of the 2003 movie Seabiscuit were shot at Keeneland, because its appearance has changed relatively little in the last several decades.
Lately, Keeneland has adopted several innovations. It reshaped the main track and replaced the dirt surface with the proprietary Polytrack surface over the summer of 2006 in time for its fall race meeting. Rogers Beasley, director of racing at Keeneland since 2006, describes the track as “selectively conservative.”
A view of Keeneland’s grandstand at dawn, taken from the last turn leading into the home stretch Keeneland was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
Since 1999, the Keeneland Association has been a part owner of Turfway Park in Boone County, Kentucky.
The Keeneland Association partnered in 2013 with Full House Resorts in a plan to buy Thunder Ridge Raceway, a harness racing track in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. The facility would be razed, and its license would be transferred to a new Quarter Horse track to be built in Corbin. The purchase is contingent on the formal legalization of slot machine-like Instant Racing devices, at least 300 of which would operate at the new track.
The track has a one and one-sixteenth mile (1710 m) Polytrack oval and a seven and one-half furlong (1509 m) turf oval. As noted earlier, the Polytrack surface was added between the 2006 April and October meetings. The turf course uses two configurations: the Keeneland Course setup has a temporary rail set fifteen feet out, while the Haggin Course has no temporary rail.