Imagine opening the pages of a great novel with fantastical characters and exotic places that ignite all the senses. Well, that’s probably the best analogy for what I experienced in Lexington at Keeneland on opening day, April 6, and a few other little hot spots that we will get to later in this column. For now, let’s focus on that tradition-packed racetrack known as Keeneland.
Jon Carloftis and Dale Fisher of Jon Carloftis Fine Gardens ever-so-graciously invited me to join them for opening day, and what a day it was. We felt like royalty from the moment we stepped foot onto the regal paddock, which offered us a close-up and personal view of the thoroughbreds as they were paraded through the crowd on their way to the starting gate. The pageantry was luminous, and we felt the excitement in the air. We loved watching the fashionable crowd mingle about – the gentlemen in their Vineyard Vines bowties and the ladies amorously ogling the tote board of chapeaux (remember that’s French for “hat”) that milliner Christine A. Moore brought in from New York. This certainly sets the stage for anyone who has an affinity for thoroughbred racing, fashion and the tradition that Keeneland Racetrack has to offer.
After making our way through the paddock, we were met by Christa Marrillia, chief marketing officer for Keeneland. She escorted us to the Presidents Table in the clubhouse for a Southern-style lunch.
“Attendance was at an all-time high of 18,374, and we are excited for this spring meet,” Marillia said. “We also host College Scholarship Day, where college students receive free admission and enter to win prizes after each race and $30,000 in college scholarships. The spring meet is April 6 to 27 and we invite everyone to experience what we have to offer, from picnic tailgating to fine dining.”
You would have thought we were part of a celebrity’s entourage as we were stopped by just about every table of folks on the way to our seats. It seems Jon and Dale are rather popular and have deep roots in the community. They are known for giving their time and efforts to numerous fundraisers, and there are way too many to mention. These guys are humble Southern gentleman to say the least.
One member of the entourage at our table was Marianne Barnes, master distiller for Castle & Key Distillery in Woodford County. Before we made our way to Keeneland, we were invited to take a tour of the distillery, and what an experience it was. The history is forged in the memory of Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor Jr., who founded Old Taylor Distillery which is now Castle & Key. Characterized by unique architecture, European gardens designed by Jon Carloftis Fine Gardens and spirits made with locally-sourced ingredients certainly inspire visitors to make this a bourbon destination.
Castle & Key’s gin was recently released. Barnes said, “Our ingredients make the difference. The fact that they are locally sourced means our customers are provided with a quality product.” Don’t miss this delicious adventure. I know it’s on my list of places to return to soon.
Meanwhile, the goings on after our Keeneland visit went on well into the evening with a dinner party at historic Botherum, the home of Dale Fisher and Jon Carloftis. It was magical. No detail was overlooked, and with effortless ease, the evening delivered so many surprises. One that brought tears to my eyes was when the tallest, lankiest cowboy of a person I think I’ve ever seen, George Gatewood of Longwood Antique Woods, who broke out his harmonica and proceeded to play “My Old Kentucky Home” like you’ve never heard it before.
“Evenings like this one are special and I always like the mix of personalities that show up here,” Gatewood said. “I’m probably the jester of the party – brought in to make people laugh and then tear up with nostalgia when they hear me play the harmonica.”
The next morning, the grounds at Botherum were covered with snow, but that didn’t stop us from taking the time to visit the University of Kentucky Art Museum to see the exhibition by Edward Melcarth called “Points of View.” It is a powerful exploration of talent, depicting everything from his exploration of masculinity to dramatic compositions. One of the most famous works by Melcarth, oil on canvas, “Rape of the Sabines,” is from the private collection of Steve Forbes of New York.
Music also took up a large portion of the weekend with the Louisville Orchestra’s collaborative performance of Teddy Abrams and Jim James at the Kentucky Center for the Arts on April 7. The performance was eloquent, innovative and a smash hit of a jam session. James’ vocal range is astonishing with his healing lyrics accompanied by Abrams’ conducting style. It certainly was a world premiere, and I for one am grateful to have attended. There were loyal fans from all over the country that made the trek to witness this performance.
LO celebrated its 80th anniversary the next evening by hosting an intimate, four-course dinner at Butchertown Grocery created by chef and owner Bobby Benjamin. The evening was a delight to the senses as the dinner was paired with an excellent selection of wine, bourbon and cocktails. Benjamin commented, “It’s our honor to support the arts with LO and create this dining experience.”
After dinner, there was a private concert upstairs at Lola lounge presented by great friends and collaborators, Teddy Abrams and Storm Large. Large is a smoldering vocalist, and the two were absolutely charismatic to watch. LO is certainly casting a visionary ray of light onto our community through the eyes of Teddy Abrams along with prominent supporters and everyone at the orchestra.
By Janice Carter Levitch