I spent 4 days in the 'horse capital of the world,' where the barns look more like estates and billionaires convene for the world's largest horse sale. Here's what life looks like in Kentucky's second-biggest city.
Earlier this month, I flew from New York City to Lexington, the second-largest city in Kentucky.
Lexington, home to about 324,000 people, is known as "the horse capital of the world." There are more than 450 horse farms in the area, as well as the world's largest thoroughbred auction house, Keeneland.Advertisement
I spent four days in the northern Kentucky city, and it became clear that life there revolves around the horse industry as well as, of course, bourbon.
Here's what it was like.
Earlier this month, I spent four days in Lexington, the second-largest city in Kentucky.
Lexington is served by the Blue Grass Airport, one of the smallest airports I have ever seen.
I had hardly touched ground in Lexington's tiny airport when I realized just how deeply committed Lexington is to the horse theme.
Lexington is known as the "horse capital of the world" — and even at the airport, the city proudly displays its love of horses.
There are about 450 horse farms in the region, and about 150 in Fayette County (which includes Lexington) alone.
During my time driving around the Lexington area, I drove by dozens of horse farms. Most of them didn't look like farms, per se.
Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai owns the 800-acre Jonabell Farm, which includes stallion barns, grazing paddocks, and multiple barns, and is home to some of the country's top stallions.
Claiborne Farm, one of the area's most prestigious horse farms, where famed racehorse Secretariat is buried, has drawn the attention of Queen Elizabeth II.
Lexington is also home to the Keeneland race track and auction house. Keeneland is the world's largest thoroughbred auction house. In 2018, it sold more than $377 million worth of horses.
At Keeneland's September yearling sale, which I caught the beginning of while in Lexington, the most sought-after, year-old horses can sell for more than $1 million.
My first night in Lexington, I attended a glitzy party hosted by Keeneland to kick off their September yearling sale.
Lexington's downtown area is compact yet vibrant. The city was once known as the "Athens of the West" because by 1820, it was one of the most culturally dynamic cities west of the Allegheny Mountains, according to the city's tourism board.
The downtown area has an artsy, laid-back feel.
Everything in Lexington seems to be horse-themed.
Beyond the horse farms, horses are everywhere in Lexington, from the street signs and the city parks ...
... to the antique shops ...
... to even the law offices.
As far as real estate goes, the typical home in Lexington sells for about $182,300, according to Zillow.
But in some neighborhoods, such as Lexington's 40502 ZIP code, which includes the Chevy Chase and Ashland Park neighborhoods, homes can cost much more.
I spent a couple hours wandering through these neighborhoods and I saw plenty of large, stately homes — many that included red brick and white columns — shaded by tall trees.
Lexington is home to Transylvania University, a small, private liberal arts college in downtown Lexington.
The city's primary educational institution, however, is the University of Kentucky, which has about 30,000 students and sits on 814 acres in the center of Lexington.
In addition to horse racing, Lexington is known for its basketball.
Right next to the Rupp Arena is the Hilton Lexington hotel, where rooms start at about $153 per night.
For one of my nights in Lexington, I stayed at the Kentucky Castle, a literal castle on a hill on the outskirts of town that has a tumultuous past.
Finally, it opened as a luxury hotel in 2007.
Of course, I couldn't visit Lexington without tasting some bourbon. "The bourbon industry is our rather signature industry in central Kentucky," Ramer of VisitLex told me.
I stopped by the Distillery District on a Sunday afternoon, so it wasn't exactly jam-packed, but there were people there enjoying bourbon, pizza, and more.
Many of the breweries and distilleries opened up to the outdoors — and were dog-friendly.
I stopped into Goodfellas Distillery, which serves more than 250 bourbons and also sells pizza.
I sipped my old fashioned outside in balmy 80-degree weather.