Keeneland: A Lexington Tradition

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Most people are familiar with Keeneland as a popular horse racing destination, but what many do not know is that it also happens to be one of Lexington's most popular wedding and event venues.  Join Kentucky Bride as we interview Kate McLean, Meeting and Event Planner at Keeneland, to get a behind the scenes look into Keeneland's thriving event business. Kentucky Bride Magazine: Keeneland has served as one of Lexington’s premiere landmarks and event venues for over 70 years.  Briefly tell our brides a little bit about Keeneland’s history.

Kate McLean: When Keeneland opened our doors back in 1936, it was our founders’ goal to create a racetrack that the community and industry could embrace—and a place where the racing, the scenery and the hospitality were second to none.  We strive to live up that standard and provide our guests with a memorable experience during all special events, especially weddings. Turf Catering has been our partner for more than 75 years. Together, our event professionals work together to help make the planning process easy and stress-free.

KBM: Keeneland has multiple event facilities that can be used for business events, horse sales, races and most importantly, weddings.  Available for weddings are the Entertainment Center & Keene Barn, First Floor Clubhouse, Keene Place, Keeneland Room, Kentucky Room, Lexington Room, Lafayette Room, Phoenix Dining Room and the Sales Pavilion. Which of these facilities have proven to be most popular for wedding ceremonies and receptions?

KM: The most popular and most-known facility is our Entertainment Center and Keene Barn. This facility is our largest space and has become a favorite for large weddings. The attached Keene Barn is an open-air barn that is ideal for your cocktail hour or reception. Our newest facility is Keene Place, a renovated mansion away from the track. This facility is best used with a tent over the back patio for a large southern-style reception, or an intimate wedding or rehearsal dinner. Our clubhouse has had some recent facility upgrades that we are excited to show our brides. It is adjacent to the racetrack and has an outdoor lawn area perfect for a ceremony, cocktail reception or even cornhole! The clubhouse is a favorite for those brides looking for an indoor/outdoor ceremony with a real Kentucky feel. Our Kentucky, Lexington and Phoenix Rooms are on the fourth floor and are a little more formal. These venues have beautiful views of the expansive race track and iconic Paddock. The smaller, quaint Lafayette and Keeneland Rooms are ideal for rehearsal dinners – these rooms overlook the track and have built-in TVs to show a video or photo slide show. Add a little bourbon tasting during your cocktail hour and you have a real taste of Kentucky!

KBM: What is included in the rental of a Keeneland facility for a wedding?  Also, what is the length of a facility rental?

KM: We hold weddings and rehearsal dinners year-round, with the exception of April and October because of our live race meets. We sell the spaces for the day, so brides and their planners can access the facility that morning to decorate, and the venue is yours for the day. Included in the rental, our team sets up all reception tables/chairs for you; linen and silver/china are also included. Ceremony locations and ceremony chairs are an additional charge.

KBM: Does Keeneland provide wedding and event coordinators?  If so, how do they help the bride in planning her special day?

KM: Keeneland has an event coordinator that will assist with the logistics and setup for your big day. Our planners are not true weddings planners, so we do recommend hiring a day-of coordinator or full planner for all the details, especially if your ceremony is on our grounds. The catering manager with Turf Catering will also guide your menu selection and planning. Both contacts will be there the day of your wedding to ensure all goes smoothly. A Turf Catering event manager and servers will also be with you throughout the entire evening.

KBM: Turf Catering is Keeneland’s own personal catering service.  Why is it beneficial to use an onsite catering service for a wedding?

KM: Turf Catering has been our in-house caterer for more than 75 years. Because they are here on property, the Turf Catering chefs prepare all the food on-site in their kitchens. Turf has a large, professional staff and they know our facilities so well. The catering manager will work with you to recommend menu selections and options such as buffet dinners, plated dinners, brunches and stationed dinners, etc.

KBM: Does Turf Catering create wedding cakes as well?

KM: Turf Catering does not supply wedding cakes and you are welcome to use your own baker. Often times, though, brides select to have bread pudding or bourbon balls from Turf Catering in addition to their cakes. The catering manager can also tell you about special desserts they can create to use as favors for your guests!

KBM: The Keeneland Gift Shop sells everything from Barbour jackets to pewter Mint Julep cups.  What types of gifts are offered there that could be used as gifts for the wedding party?

KM: Our gift shop is so diverse! We have selected items that we recommend to our brides (with a discount!) for bridal party hostess gifts, groomsmen’s gifts, hotel gift bags and more. Many of our brides will choose Keeneland ties or bowties for the groomsmen to wear, or matching horse bit necklaces for their bridesmaids. We also have a new bridal registry for our brides.

KBM: Under the “Additional Services” tab under “Weddings” in the “Plan Your Event” section of the Keeneland webpage, it mentions that Keeneland also offers private tours.  What is included in these tours?

KM: We have a lot of weddings who want to offer private tours the Saturday morning of their wedding, or if their rehearsal dinner is here, a private tour during the cocktail hour. The tour is more of a historical tour of our facility, and we can tailor it to fit the desires of the bride and her guests. We can also offer to start the tour off with a special Kentucky bourbon drink – just to get your guests in the spirit of Kentucky!

KBM: If a bride does plan to take guests on a private tour of Keeneland, how far in advance should it be booked?

KM: Because we don’t have standard tour times, we do have to book the tours at least a week in advance.

KBM: When it comes to venues in Lexington, there are many options.  Why should a couple choose to have their wedding and reception at Keeneland?

KM: With rolling hills of Bluegrass and panoramic views of the racetrack, our venues are so unique and offer a true taste of Kentucky and southern hospitality. Our event team is happy to meet with you, show you around our facility and share our options with you.

KBM: Finally, at Kentucky Bride Magazine, we have two main goals: education and inspiration.  Give us some brief words of wisdom that could achieve both of these goals.

KM: When booking a venue, you want a place that reflects your vision as well as showcases the beauty and tradition of our state; as well as a unique venue that your guests will be excited to visit! Also, you want to ensure that the venue and catering staff will provide the best service and hospitality to you and your guests. Southern hospitality is a must in Kentucky!

Keeneland's website can be found by clicking here.  Also, if you would like to connect with Keeneland via social media, click on the following links:

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Photographers: Dwayne Lloyd Photography, Honey Heart Photography, Photography by Melanie Mauer, Keeneland In-House Photography, UnVeiled Studio and Todd Pellowe Weddings