By REBECCA SLOAN


By REBECCA SLOAN

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Lexington. The very word rolls off your tongue so sleek and luxurious you can’t help but say it again.

Lexington. It sounds classic yet modern, country fresh yet city smart.

How sweet to know that in this case, the reality lives up to the romance of the name.

With a suburbia of weathered tobacco barns, antebellum mansions and rolling horse farms and a downtown that’s upscale and metropolitan, Lexintgon offers a distinctive blend of old-fashioned charm and modern glitz.

Whether you want to visit a historic site, soak in the beauty of the picturesque farmland, shop until you drop or bet your last dollar on a horse at the track, Lexington delivers.

HORSES OF COURSE

Speaking of horses, you can’t visit Lexington — or Kentucky, for that matter — without encountering a few, so perhaps the best place to begin your tour of the Bluegrass Region is the Kentucky Horse Park.

Located at 4089 Iron Works Parkway in Lexington, the Kentucky Horse Park features 50 breeds of equines, large and small.

At the park’s International Museum of the Horse, visitors can learn more about the 55-million year history of the horse.

The museum includes exhibits on the relationship between humans and horses along with numerous artifacts including antique carriages and racing vehicles, equestrian sports memorabilia and equine art and sculptures.

A highlight of the Kentucky Horse Park is its Parade of Breeds.

This show occurs twice daily near the park’s Breed’s Barn. To the beat of music and an announcer’s informative commentary, costumed riders canter their showy mounts around an outdoor arena.

The 30-minute show gives spectators a glimpse of horses of all shapes and sizes from all over the world. Quarter horses, Morgans, Arabians, Welsh ponies and rare Friesians take center stage — just to name a few.

The Parade of Breeds currently features the very rare Caspian Horse. This breed was thought to be extinct for more than 1,000 years until it was recently rediscovered in the mountains of Iran.

Caspian horses are petite, elegant and mild-mannered and make delightful children’s horses.

Speaking of children, kids adore the Kentucky Horse Park, and during a visit they can ride a pony or pet the friendly horses grazing in the park’s wide, rolling pastures.

And there are pastures aplenty.

The Kentucky Horse Park consists of more than 1,200 acres and in 2010 will be the site of the World Equestrian Games, a kind of Olympics for horse and rider.

Set for Sept. 25 through Oct. 10, 2010, this is the first time this prestigious event has been held in America. (Previously, it has been strictly a European affair.)

It will be the largest equestrian event to ever take place in the United States, and in preparation, construction on a super-size arena has begun at the park.

The Kentucky Horse Park also features the American Saddlebred Museum.

Kentuckians are particularly proud of this high-stepping, flashy breed because it originated in the land of Bluegrass.

At the museum, visitors can learn more about the role the American Saddlebred has played in our nation’s history.

Kentuckians are even prouder of their thoroughbreds, and at the park visitors can get close to retired champion racehorses such as Cigar, whose lifetime earnings total a record $10 million.

Other activities at the park include horseback riding, horse-drawn wagon tours and year-round special activities.

The park is open 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day March 15 through Oct. 31. It’s closed Mondays and Tuesdays Nov. 1 through March 14. It’s also closed Thanksgiving Eve and Day, Christmas Eve and Day and New Year’s Eve and Day.

Admission costs change during different times of the year. Adult prices vary from $9 to $15, and children’s costs vary from $6 to $8.

For more information visit www.KyHorsePark.com or call (800) 678-8813.

The Kentucky Horse Park isn’t the only place to see horses during a trip to Lexington.

In case you didn’t know, Lexington is known as horse capital of the world and is home to more than 300,000 equines.

When you consider that horses generate millions for the local economy, it’s no surprise Kentuckians love them so much.

Acres of immaculate horse farms lined with smart, white fences dominate the region just outside of downtown, and numerous area racetracks and training facilities are open to the public.

At The Thoroughbred Center at 3380 Paris Pike, for example, tourists can watch morning workouts and visit with trainers during an hour-long guided tour.

This is the largest public thoroughbred training facility in the United States, and reservations are recommended. Call (859) 293-1853.

Keeneland Race Course, six miles west of Lexington at 4201 Versailles Road, features live thoroughbred racing during April and October.

Some of the biggest names in the sport race here in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in April, and in October, Keeneland hosts a series of races that precede the famous Breeders’ Cup Championship.

Keeneland is family-friendly with a parklike atmosphere, and tourists can watch horses train here throughout the year from dawn until 10 a.m.

For more information visit www.keeneland.com or call (800) 456-3412.

Harness racing is also popular in Kentucky, and races occur during spring and fall at the Red Mile Harness Racetrack at 1200 Red Mile Road in Lexington.

This one-mile clay track is said to be the oldest and fastest trotting track in the world.

Another way tourists can get closer to horses is to go on a horse farm tour.

Horse Farm Tours Inc. will pick up tourists at many Lexington-area lodgings and take them to area farms.

During a tour, visitors will learn more about Lexington’s long love affair with the horse. Many local families have been breeding horses since the late 1700s, and in a 1789 census, the city had more horses than people.

A Horse Farm Tour costs $26 for adults and $13 for children under 12. For more information call (800) 976-1034.

HISTORY

When you’re tired of horsing around and crave a change of pace, consider learning more about Lexington’s rich history.

Prominent historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, politician Henry Clay — known as “the Great Compromiser” — once made their homes here.

Mary Todd Lincoln was born in Lexington in 1818 and lived here with her father, stepmother and siblings in a two-story, Georgian-style brick house at 578 W. Main St.

Today the circa-1806 home is a museum featuring period furnishings and Lincoln and Todd family memorabilia.

During a guided tour of the beautifully decorated rooms, visitors will learn more about the triumphant yet tragic life of the witty, vivacious woman who married “Honest Abe.”

After becoming first lady, Mrs. Lincoln was disliked by Southerners, who labeled her a traitor, and rejected by Northerners, who feared she was a spy.

She lost two of her three children to illness, witnessed her husband’s assassination, endured various health problems and in old age was committed to a mental institution by her oldest son.

Although Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln met in Springfield, Ill., the former president and his wife visited the Todd home in Lexington many times after their marriage.

In fact, Abraham Lincoln delighted in the Todd family’s extensive library and liked to sit and read in a sunny spot on the stair landing.

When visitors climb the home’s open staircase, tour guides encourage them to touch the banister — the same one once touched by Lincoln.

The Mary Todd Lincoln House is open Mondays through Saturdays, March 15 through Nov. 30. Visit www.mtlhouse.org or call (859) 233-9999 for more information.

A short drive from the Mary Todd Lincoln Home is Ashland, the lavish estate of Henry Clay.

Known as “The Great Compromiser,” Clay was a celebrated statesman who served as a congressman, senator, speaker of the House and secretary of state. He also ran for the presidency three times.

Named for the large number of ash trees on the property, Ashland provided Clay comfort and respite when he wasn’t in Washington.

He and his wife, Lucretia, made their home here from 1806 until 1852 and entertained famous guests such as James Monroe, Daniel Webster and Marquis de Lafayette.

After Clay’s death in 1852, his son James Brown Clay acquired the property. James demolished the original home, which had structural damage, and built a new home on its foundation.

The new home was completed in 1856 and followed the original home’s floor plan.

It is this 1856 structure — a graceful brick Italianate — that still stands and is open to the public.

The mansion and grounds have been a museum since 1950 and feature lovely formal gardens, as well as interesting outbuildings including two icehouses and a cottage-sized privy with running water — a rare luxury for the time period.

Ashland is located at 120 Sycamore Road in Lexington. For more information on hours and admission call (859) 266-8581 or visit www.henryclay.org.

OTHER ATTRACTIONS

Other historical sites in Lexington include the Hunt-Morgan House, which was once the home of John Hunt Morgan, known as the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy”; Lexington Cemetery, an arboretum and cemetery where prominent Kentuckians are buried; and Waveland State Historic Site, a Greek Revival mansion and museum.

Lexington also offers the Aviation Museum of Kentucky, which houses a variety of aircraft and interactive exhibits; and the Explorium of Lexington, a children’s museum.

Visitors can enjoy premiere shopping and dining downtown at The Shops at Lexington Center and Victorian Square.

For more information on Lexington call (800) 845-3959.

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