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.”