The Church of Keeneland

Keeneland is indeed a venerable, and venerated, site, and for decades, racing fans have flocked to this cathedral, to worship at its altar of racing excellence and elegance.

How many, though, have actually worshipped at the race track? Based on my experience on Sunday morning, I’d say thousands.

Each Sunday at 10 am, mass is celebrated in the concession area of the Keeneland sales pavilion, with chairs set up between the smoothie stand on the right and the coffee counter on the left. The faithful look out onto the expanse of wooded lawn behind the grandstand, and to the right of the makeshift altar, an electronic, interactive kiosk offers “Keeneland Sales Information.”

If one looks to the left, one gets a view of several flat-screen televisions, offering information on everything from upcoming Keeneland promotions to the ten cent superfecta to the availability of simulcast wagering on the Breeders’ Cup.

Mass at Keeneland is, shall we say, efficient; before beginning his homily, the priest noted that this was his first time saying mass at the track and that he’d been advised to “keep it to thirty minutes.” While some folks came dressed for the races, the atmosphere was decidedly casual; the man in front of me, who turned out to be one of the people offering the sacrament of communion, checked his e-mail on a personal device at least once during the service.

A central element of the Catholic mass are the prayers of the faithful, in which the congregation is asked to pray for a variety of petitions, from the safety of our armed forces to healing for the sick to comfort for the suffering. At Keeneland on Sunday morning, we were also asked to pray for “those who would visit today, that their enjoyment might be blessed.” I guess that we were praying to the racing gods, too?

Mass traditionally ends with the priest’s blessing and the congregation’s affirmation. At Keeneland, the priest offered an additional benediction; his parting words were, “Good luck.”

8 thoughts on “The Church of Keeneland

  1. BB, For a few years and a few years back, Mass was said at Saratoga rec hall after the races on Saturday evening, providing a priest could be found. Since, St. Clements, on Lake Ave has added a 7:30pm mass on Sunday evenings. It looks as though this mass remains all year.I have also read some info, not much, that St Clements has had an active part in serving the backstretch workers going back many years. I’ll see if I can find more info. Have a safe trip back.

  2. I was talking with a friend at Keeneland about how this particular mass is clearly NOT for the backstretch workers…they’re all still working at 10 am. This is for owners and breeders and Keeneland workers…not a brown face in the crowd yesterday morning.I wonder if there’s one that accomodates backstretch workers? I’d love to hear more about any work St. Clement’s does with the track workers…I went there for eighth grade!

  3. The only central element to Mass is Christ ever present in the Eucharist.Everything else–petitions, liturgy of the word, etc.–flows from that belief.

  4. One of the Downtown churches offers a Catholic mass in Spanish on Sunday night, and I’m told many of the farm/track workers attend that service.

  5. I believe this is the organization that works with the back stretch workers etchttp://www.racetrackbiblestudy.com/I could be wrong…I found this article quite interesting.BUD

  6. No this is not racetrackbiblestudy. However they do a weekly bible study at Santa Anita on Tues evenings. And have gone on the road on selected occasions to New Mexico, Elko, NV, Portland Meadows.

  7. EJXD2: And that was indeed present on Sunday morning; while the spirit of the races was unmistakable, it did not trump the essentials of the Mass.Rumor has it that you were at Keeneland on Saturday, and I looked for you without knowing what you look like…unsuccessfully…

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