Historical Marker # 2 in Fayette County remembers the 1825 visit the Marquis de Lafayette made to the estate of Major John Keen (the extra "e" was added later), who had served with the Frenchman in the Revolutionary War. Keeneland, however, has become even better known as a premiere racing track in the heart of Kentucky horse country.
The land where Keeneland racetrack now sits was settled in the late-eighteenth century. John Keen and his wife, Mary, also known as Polly, built a brick home there just after the turn of the nineteenth century. As the years passed, the property eventually devolved to John Oliver "Jack" Keene, a noted Kentucky Thoroughbred breeder, trainer, and owner.
When the old and venerable Lexington Association racetrack closed in 1933, the city known as the Horse Capital of the World found itself without a race course. That void was filled when, several years later, Jack Keene's property was selected for purchase. Keene offered the land to the Keeneland Association at a reduced price. The fact that the property already contained a track and other necessary equine amenities only added to its attractiveness.
In October 1936, Keeneland opened as a rarity in horse racing: a non-profit racetrack. The Keeneland Association, under the direction of Hal Price Headley and Major Louis Beard, and with the help of numerous non-paid staff, managed the operation. On October 15, 1936, more than 8,000 enthusiasts attended the inaugural race.
Keeneland's setting, in the center of horse country, is picturesque. From the track's beginning its unique atmosphere has been emphasized. Keeneland's first president, Headley, explained "We want a place where those who love horses can come picnic with us and thrill to the sport of the Bluegrass." He added, "We want them to come out here to enjoy God’s sunshine, fresh air and to watch horses race."
Today, Keeneland remains one of the most appealing racetracks in Kentucky. It hosts annual fall and spring races and is also known world-wide for its thoroughbred yearling auction sales, which help fund the race purses and the operational costs of the racetrack.