How to Throw a Keeneland Tailgate (and Look Like You Have It Together)

We’re well into April, and as any good Central Kentuckian will tell you, that means it’s time to pull out your seersucker and Lilly for Keeneland’s Spring Meet.

Of course, enjoying bread pudding and a Keeneland Breeze while watching the races makes for a fun day, the ultimate Keeneland experience calls for a tailgate. Since we have the opportunity to tailgate for college football games AND Keeneland’s spring and fall meets, Lexington is home to some serious tailgate enthusiasts. Last fall I even saw a family roll up to the local pumpkin patch, open their back hatch, and pull out some lawn chairs and beverages to enjoy in the parking lot. Like I said, people take tailgating seriously here.

My favorite place to find bright Equestrian tablecloths and other tableware perfect for keeneland is pomegranate. they are known to have great sales, so check in regularly. 

My favorite place to find bright Equestrian tablecloths and other tableware perfect for keeneland is pomegranate. they are known to have great sales, so check in regularly. 

I have one friend in particular who is a tailgating extraordinaire! She always has a perfect menu, a coordinated table theme, and basically has tailgating down to an art. We’re not all natural born tailgaters, but it’s easier than you might think to throw together a decent tailgate. Last April, a good friend asked if I could help put together a tailgate for some of her out-of-town friends the night before we had plans to go to Keeneland, and after a quick trip to the grocery and a half hour gathering things from around the house, we were ready to go. Here are a few tips and tricks I've picked up along the way.

  • Food: Tailgating is all about the food and drink, but it doesn't have to be complicated. The best tailgates at the track include traditional Kentucky fare that can be eaten with one hand (because you'll most likely have a bourbon beverage in the other.) My go-to dishes are country ham biscuits, beer cheese, and either cookies or lemon bars. For the country ham biscuits, I buy mini-frozen biscuits from the grocery, so all I have to do is bake and assemble them. I usually mix blueberry preserves with some spicy mustard that people can spread on their biscuit if they want to add a little kick to it. I normally pick up Olivia's beer cheese and scoop it into a nicer dish along with pretzels and some raw veggies. Super easy and always a crowd-pleaser!
  • Drink: Bourbon and mimosas, enough said. Our tailgating friends are known for being some of the first people to pull into the parking lot, so mimosas are normally my go-to drink at 9:00 AM. Depending on the crowd, sometimes a bourbon punch is a good idea, and we normally have some sipping and mixing bourbon as well. 
  • Tablescape: Keeneland tailgates tend to be slightly more classy than football tailgates, at least on the surface. It is imperative to have a cloth tablecloth and decent serving dishes. I'm all for swinging by the grocery store for some ready-made snacks, but by displaying them in a nice dish, you instantly elevate your tailgate with minimal effort. 
  • Finishing Touches: It is easy to spot the "best" tailgates when walking the hill at Keeneland because they have all of the above plus a couple extra touches. While you're at the grocery store, pick up a $5 bunch of flowers and throw them in a sturdy vase that won't tip over in the wind. I also like to have napkins with horseshoes or bridles on them, and I try to pick those up in May when they are are on post-Derby clearance and save them for Keeneland. 
 
                     THis StoneWare Julep Cup is the perfect vessel to hold flowers or utensils.

                     THis StoneWare Julep Cup is the perfect vessel to hold flowers or utensils.

 

Don't stress, and enjoy the races!