Lexington, the heart of Kentucky "bluegrass," has been renowned for two centuries for horse raising and horse racing. Shortly after the track's completion in 1936, Keeneland Racetrack became the most conspicuous manifestation of this culture. Jack Keene, for whom Keeneland is named, was an extraordinary figure in American racing, and helped revive this industry during the 1930s when it was beginning to suffer. Keene was a descendant of a distinguished Lexington family and was known worldwide as a trainer of thoroughbreds. After training abroad in Russia and Japan he returned to Kentucky where he began laying out the Keeneland racecourse in 1916. The main track is one and 1/16th miles in circumference and has retained this length since its original inception by Keene. The grounds also include Keene's mansion and training center. Constructed of limestone that was quarried on Keene's farm, this building was designed with living quarters, a large clubroom and stalls. The two-story center section of the building is flanked on either side by stone arcades leading to three-story wings of the building.
After $200,000 and 20 years of fluctuating finances for Keene, he sold his private racing complex to the newly formed non-profit Keeneland Association in 1936. The Association planned to conduct racing for the benefit of the horsemen and to reinvest profits in the track and grounds. Keene's mansion was converted into a clubhouse, and a portico and bi-level porch, or miniature "grandstand" were added. A large stone and wood grandstand was completed in 1936 which seated 2,500 spectators. By the 1940s Keenland was one of the most successful tracks in the country, and the grandstand was expanded over the years to seat 5,000. The Keeneland Racetrack is a Lexington institution that figures prominently in its designation as the "horse capital of the world."