Temperatures that hovered around 49 degrees with gusty winds and sporadic showers put a dent in the crowd but did little to deter race fans who turned out for the 87th running of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, Keeneland's richest and most famous race, and an important stop on the road to the Kentucky Derby.
Attendance Saturday was 24,990, down from last year's all-time Blue Grass day record of 33,727.
In April, 1937, Keeneland ran the Blue Grass for the first time. A total of nine winners of the Blue Grass have won the Kentucky Derby, and another 10 horses who ran in the race have won the Run for the Roses. Among the Blue Grass-Kentucky Derby winners are some of the most famous Thoroughbreds, including Racing Hall of Fame members Northern Dancer, Riva Ridge and Spectacular Bid.
On Saturday, before the running of the Blue Grass, Lee Ann Holt and a half dozen family members sat on the terrace behind the grandstand and studied the Daily Racing Form. On sunny days, fans arrive hours early to stake out a table at this popular spot. Yesterday, there were tables to spare.
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Coming to Keeneland is a twice-yearly family outing, Holt said, and they weren't going to let chilly temperatures keep them away.
"We're usually inside in the sports bar area, but it was full," Holt said. Family member Scott Earwood won $71.80 on a $2 daily double bet when he picked Getaway Guy and Lady Aspen, which helped chase some of the chill, he said.
Early birds Damian Stutsman, his girlfriend Jamie Cohrs and brother-in-law Jeff Stutsman showed up at 10:15 a.m. to put chairs in a coveted spot under the grandstand, situated right in front of the TV monitors and near a beer stand. "This is kind of our little protected place, out of the wind, near the beer," Damian said.
It hadn't proved a lucky spot, unfortunately, in terms of cashing winning tickets. "I've been one horse off every race," Damian said. "But that's OK. We've still got a long way to go."
Saturday shaped up as a slow day for beer vendor Bryan Gogan. "Not so hot," he said, when asked how sales were going.
"On a good day, I sell 10 to 12 cases, usually one case and a half per race," he said. "Today, we've had two races and I've sold half a case."
The Keeneland gift shop stayed busy as race fans ducked in from the cold. Sarah McGrath and Maria Thomas perused purses. Thomas, a University of Kentucky senior, and McGrath, a senior at Ohio State University, dismissed talk of cold and wind.
"We're both moving to Chicago this summer," Thomas said. "If this is windy, we're moving to the wrong place."
"This is just preparation," McGrath added.
Keeneland is all about fast horses, but also beautiful women and stylish clothes. A few fashion divas defied the inclement weather and wore the shortest of skirts, sky-high stiletto heels and sleeveless dresses.
Kayla Johnson and her friend Kailee Yassini ducked under the shelter of the grandstand and out of the wind after the third race. The UK students were happy to be fashion plates in micro-mini skirts, bare legs and brief sweater shrugs over sleeveless tops.
"We wanted to dress up. I just didn't think it was going to be this cold," said a shivering Johnson.
Katherine Wheeler of Lexington said, "I'm a horse girl. I can go out in the field with stilettos on. I'm not complaining." She wore a short-sleeve summer dress with no jacket and bare legs as she strolled through the paddock area.
But Clerrinda Walker, who was having a bachelorette party with a dozen friends, grabbed a coat at the last minute as she left her house in Northern Kentucky on Saturday morning.
"We were hoping it would be nice and warm and sunny so we could wear cute dresses. That obviously isn't happening," she laughed. She and her friends were wrapped in trench coats and warm jackets.
Another bride-to-be, Jenn Desmond, also had her bachelorette party at Keeneland Saturday.
"We were not letting weather deter us. We would have come, rain or shine," she said. With a nod to the weather, Desmond paired fur- lined boots with her sleeveless, white sequined dress. "It works," she said.
Fashion-smart and weather-wise was Darlene Walters, from Indianapolis, who wore a full-length fur coat.
Her brother-in-law Tom Walters owns Blue Grass Stakes horse Santiva. "I was afraid I might look a little foolish" wearing a fur coat, she said. "But several people have stopped me and said, 'You have the right idea.' "