As we pulled into Keeneland early Thursday afternoon on a glorious spring day, I was fretting. Having been in the car since dawn, I had dressed for comfort, a wise decision at 6 am, but on the hallowed grounds of Keeneland, perhaps a dubious one. I contemplated my jeans (pretty nice by jeans standards, if I say so myself), boots, and sleeveless, dressy sweater (not a tank top, no spaghetti straps), compared my attire to that of other women in the parking lot (heavy on the sundresses), and wondered whether I should change.
“Nonsense!” I told myself. “It might be Keeneland, but it’s still a race track.”
I made my way to the main building and got in the elevator to head to the press box, located on the fourth floor of the clubhouse, the entry of which is guarded as zealously as a Triple Crown contender. Emerging from the elevator with those headed to the fancy dining rooms, I headed to the press box…and was stopped. More powerful than the words was the disapproving look.
“Excuse me, miss, can I help you?” (Read: “You clearly don’t belong here, and I’m not letting you go any further.”)
“I’m going to the press box.”
He looked at my pants (I am not making this up, I swear), and asked, “Are those dungarees, or are they jeans?”
Stymied, nervous, I just stared. Dungarees or jeans? There’s a difference? Is this a quiz? Should I guess? Suppose I’m wrong?
In the face of my confusion, he made the determination himself. “Those are jeans.”
Deciding that humor and cooperation were my best allies, I made some comment about taking the back stairway to the press box and making sure that no one would see me, and reluctantly, he let me pass, with the air of someone who has let a New York-bred claimer into the Kentucky Derby.
We were invited to watch the next race from the box of a friend of a friend who had a horse racing. “But I have jeans on,” I said. The box’s owner dismissed my concern, saying, “That doesn’t matter. Come on up.”
We were joined by two very proper Kentucky gentlemen, one of whom was of—or perhaps beyond—a certain age. All around us, scantily if elegantly clad women took advantage of the sort of spring day that has made far too few appearances so far this year. We made small talk; we talked Saratoga; we watched the race, in which our rooting interest did not fare well; we said our thank-yous and prepared to leave. As I began to leave the box, the Very Proper Gentleman beckoned me for a sotto voce and quite pointed comment, looking at my bare arms: “You can buy a sweater in the gift shop.” I responded, oh so graciously, “Thank you so much, but I’m really quite warm, thank you.”
Welcome to Keeneland.
Sartorial inadequacies aside, the rest of our afternoon passed in a delightful glow—the first race we watched resulted in a double dead-heat for second and fourth, offering so many payout combinations that the track announcer told the crowd simply to look at the board, rather than going through each one.
And a few races later, we got to see the magnificent Ventura get nipped at the wire in the Vinery Madison (someone in the Backstretch household thinks that that’s a GREAT name for a race) by Informed Decision.
More than satisfied by the first day of our visit, we headed to the parking lot. “Wasn’t the car right here?” my friend asked. “I think so,” I replied. “Maybe it was over there?” she said hopefully.
It was nowhere. Our car had been towed. But why? There were no signs forbidding parking; we parked in line with another car; three parking attendants had watched us exit the car and head to the track. In the face of rising panic and impending financial despair, we found what had to be the most helpful and friendliest policeman in Lexington. He made a number of phone calls and determined that while Keeneland does remove cars it deems incorrectly parked, it doesn’t have them towed away—they are simply moved elsewhere on the grounds, out of the way (kind of like the people who wear jeans?). But he didn’t know where.
Back up to the building we went, in search of a Keeneland security guard. Avuncular, gracious, he told us with some merriment that we’d find the car on the Keeneland “back forty,” on the hill beyond the track kitchen, and that there would be no fee for retrieving it; we could just walk back there and get it.
The backstretch was quiet as we made our way eastward, and the panic having suspended, we rather enjoyed a pastoral stroll among the horses. Our VW was the only car there; “Guess you girls are the only ones who got towed today,” a nearby observer remarked. Lucky us.
Yesterday’s glorious weather will be nowhere in evidence today, with cloudy skies and rain forecast for much of today. We’ll be meticulous in our parking choices, and now, I’m off to iron a skirt…