The Breeders’ Cup World Championships has always been associated with the best horses that Thoroughbred racing has to offer. This year, the grand annual event returns to Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, but the famed racecourse should not be your only stop if you’ve made it to the “horse racing capital of the world” for the competition. Idyllic and famous Thoroughbred farms dot the countryside—one of the most scenic parts of the commonwealth—and plenty open their gates to visitors. Here are just a few historic and picturesque options among the area’s four hundred horse farms.
Without Gainesway farm and its founder John R. Gaines, there would be no Breeders’ Cup—Gaines had the idea for the event, which launched in 1984. Today the farm is home to Tapit, currently one of the best sires in the nation, having sired twenty-nine Grade 1 winners and thirty-three yearlings that have yielded more than $1 million each at auction. To date, his offspring have earned more than $188 million at the racetrack—the most progeny earnings of any current or prior North American sire.
Visitors can stop by the stallion complex to take in all the talent; not only that, but the ArbNet accreditation network has recognized Gainesway as a Level II arboretum. The farm’s full-time horticulture staff cares for the more than fifteen hundred acres of ornamental plants, floral displays, and tree collections, including an impressive forty-five varieties of oak trees, such as the sprawling California valley oak and an endangered Oglethorpe.
From the time he retired from racing at the end of 1973 until his death in 1989, the famed Secretariat stood at Claiborne. However, there is much more to this Paris, Kentucky, destination farm for visitors to take in on tours, which include a shuttle option and a stop at the cemetery where Secretariat lies.
Twice, in 1979 and 1984, Claiborne was named the Eclipse Award’s Outstanding Breeder, the highest honor given to Thoroughbred breeders (the industry’s equivalent of an Oscar or an Emmy). The late monarch Queen Elizabeth II, an enthusiastic racehorse owner herself, paid the farm two visits on her trips to the States. And notable racehorses have been raised at the farm, including the 2013 Kentucky Derby victor, Orb. The prolific sires Mr. Prospector, Danzig, and Unbridled were also all recruited to stand at Claiborne. (Curlin, the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner; 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah; and Arrogate, winner of the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic and named World’s Best Racehorse the same year, all trace their lines back to Mr. Prospector.)
Three Chimneys Farm has left an indelible mark on the Thoroughbred industry in its four decades of operation. The Versailles, Kentucky, spot has a rich history of success, managing the careers of legendary American Thoroughbred stallions such as Seattle Slew, Dynaformer, and Rahy, as well as those of renowned mares Hidden Lake, Pompeii, Gorgeous, Ave, and Miss Keller, in breeding and in racing.
Gun Runner, winner of the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic and other significant Grade 1 races, finished with earnings just shy of $16 million and is the most successful horse ever to come out of the farm. He quickly rose to the top of the ranks as a stud; with more than $3.8 million in earnings in 2021, he set a new benchmark for rookie sires.
In addition, nine of Gun Runner’s first-crop offspring have gone on to win stakes races, including two-year-old filly Echo Zulu, the unbeaten Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and Eclipse Champion. Early Voting, the 2022 Preakness Stakes and Withers Stakes winner, was sired by Three Chimneys and is currently standing at stud. Tours include a peek at these top sires and a stop in the breeding shed.
WinStar has achieved astounding success across the board, with victories in some of the most prestigious Thoroughbred races in the world, including the 2018 Triple Crown with Justify, and a Kentucky Derby victory in 2010 with Super Saver.
In 2010, WinStar stallion Drosselmeyer captured the Belmont Stakes, and his fellow WinStar sire Creator did the same in 2016. In 2011, Drosselmeyer also enjoyed success in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, while fellow sire Tourist emerged victorious in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 2016. Battle of Midway, another WinStar stallion, won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in 2017.
The farm offers multiple tour options to take in their horses, from the top stallions to the newest foals. Breeders’ Cup enthusiasts can also choose a special “Tiznow Experience,” during which they can meet and feed peppermints to Tiznow—the only horse to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic twice.
Spendthrift Farm, situated on more than twelve hundred acres, is probably best known for its association with the legendary Seattle Slew, winner of the 1979 Triple Crown, who retired to a stud career at Spendthrift after his incredible campaign, until his death in 1987. But today the farm is a Breeders’ Cup fan’s dream, as it hosts multiple champion horses, including Authentic, the 2020 Horse of the Year and winner of the 146th Kentucky Derby; his sire, and the number one general sire, Into Mischief; Vino Rosso, winner of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic; Mitole, winner of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Sprint and that year’s Champion Sprinter; the four-time champion mare Beholder; and the two-time champion mare Monomoy Girl. Best of all, Spendthrift offers a slew of tour options, including ones focused on the smallest residents—the new foals—and a special Breeders’ Cup tour of the stallion complex.
The 2021 Horse of the Year, Knicks Go, makes his home at Taylor Made Farm; the now six-year-old won the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Classic, 2020 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, and the 2021 Pegasus World Cup, one of the richest races in the world. (Also on its list of credentials: The farm previously hosted Unbridled’s Song, winner of the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and one of the most prolific sires ever, including to Breeders’ Cup champions Arrogate, Forever Unbridled, Midshipman. and Liam’s Map.) For a tour here, visitors get to drive their own cars between stops, which include up-close looks at Knicks Go and the farm’s other winning stallions and mares.
While in the Bluegrass State, any horse enthusiast (or those wanting to learn more about our equine friends), shouldn’t leave without a trip to the Kentucky Horse Park. The equestrian center spans 1,224 acres and celebrates “man’s relationship with the horse” with numerous activities for guests of all ages.
Some of the greatest Thoroughbreds in the world have called the Kentucky Horse Park home after their racing and breeding careers. These include Forego, one of the leading handicap horses of the 1970s, and John Henry, the all-time leading money-winning Thoroughbred gelding who was named Horse of the Decade for the 1980s. Not to mention a roster of Breeders’ Cup notables, Horses of the Year, and Kentucky Derby winners such as 1994’s Go for Gin. Currently, the Hall of Champions houses the likes of Funny Cide, winner of the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, and Point Given, the winner of the 2001 Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes who was honored as Horse of the Year and Champion Three-Year-Old.
Park visitors can stop in at the Smithsonian-affiliated International Museum of the Horse, or catch the Parade of Breeds Show, which features both familiar and rare horses from all over the globe. The park also regularly hosts some of the world’s top equestrian competitions, such as the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, a major Olympic qualifier.