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LUCKY KENTUCKY

I KNEW I was flying into, horse country when, as the overhead sign was switched got off the little man beside men from the overhead…

I KNEW I was flying into, horse country when, as the overhead sign was switched got off the little man beside men from the overhead locker.

Lexington is located in the heart of Kentucky. The best way to get there from Dublin is to fly Delta into Atlanta and then take the one hour connection north wards, up the west side of the Appalachians and into Blue Grass Airport.

Lexington itself is all suburb and little centre, a spider’s web on a map. Although the buses that transport you downtown have old fashioned, timber bodies, here the modern shopping malls, hotels and theatres linked by overhead pedestrian walkways have the feeling of an airport on a quiet weekend. The exception is MacCarthy’s Irish Bar right in the centre. Run by two enterprising men from Co Waterford, it takes its name from a famous watering hole in Fethard, Co Tipperary. The buzz is mighty in MacCarthy’s and the Guinness sipping crowd cheering on the local basketball team, the Wildcats, might as easily be watching a Munster Final.

For shopping, the best bet is the Fayette Mall in Nicholasville, 15 minutes from the centre. This is a five acre Aladdin’s cave of shops in which you can buy anything from sherry flavoured lip balm to a lawn mower. Across the road in Lexington Green is Joseph Beth, one of the finest bookshops in America. Sofas, free coffee, free newspapers and the hush of a million books.

The original French settlers who named the townlands outside Lexington as Fayette and Bourbon in honour of their distant masters could hardly have anticipated that the name of a French royal dynasty would come to be attached for all time to a local recipe for whiskey. They tried to bring Paris here too, these Frenchmen, and today it is a town of 8,000 people located 20 minutes north of Lexington. The road goes straight and narrow through rolling countryside with horses and fat cattle that all look to have come straight from the pages of Ideal Farms.

The stud railing, white and black, stretches as far as the eye can see. Stone walls are reputed Ion have been built by black slaves but some of them could have come from Connemara or Donegal and so it’s no surprise to meet descendants of Irish stonemasons, now settled in Kentucky, whose great’s `grandfathers’ hands crafted these unique boundaries.

The architecture is pseudo colonial red bricks, shingle or slate roofs and great, white, colonnaded porches Gone With The Wind meets Dick Francis. Swans swim on ornamental lakes. At this time of the year the early morning combination of light and dew on the ground gives the new grass its famous blue tinted appearance. It’s like the best of Kildare multiplied by a factor of 100 and without the potholes. It is the homeland of the American horse.

Claiborne Farm runs all the way into the town of Paris. An incredibly beautiful 3,600 acre stud farm of rolling limestone hills, Claiborne is synonymous with great horses. In a cemetery behind the main office are the headstones of Bold Ruler, Round Table, Riva Ridge, Secretariat and many more. In the quiet early morning, if you listen quietly, you can hear the roar of the crowd.

World famous Keeneland Race Track is beside Blue Grass airport and it’s a treat to go there at, dawn and see two year olds breezing up on the racetrack. Ten minutes up the road you’ll find the Kentucky Horse Park, where the mighty Man O’War lies buried. Here are state of the art visual displays and wooded nooks for families to picnic.

Kentuckians are endlessly courteous and determined that visitors enjoy their stay. They speak in the same drawl as Jimmy Carter. They say, Y’all take care” when you’re leaving. They talk about going to Looh’vil”.

Which means Louisville, a little over an hour’s drive west from Lexington. Mohammed Al came from Louisville, a city of southern charms on the mighty Ohio River. At this time of the year Louisville means only one thing, the Kentucky, Derby, the most famous race in America which has been run for the last 122 years in Churchill Downs in the heart of Louisville on the first Saturday in May. Last year, 145,000 people turned up. It’s a great and deeply heartfelt gathering and they say it’s no surprise if a tear comes to your eye when every man, woman and child stands up to sing My Old Kentucky Home.

On the way back to Lexington, you can drop into the city of Frankfort, the state capital, and stand for a few reflective moments at Daniel Boone’s grave.

The best hotel in Lexington’s centre is the Radisson. A favourite for businessmen, it has extensive parking and a swimming pool. For families the Marriott, 10 minutes further out. offers extensive sports facilities including tennis courts and a golf course.

For eating out it’s hard to beat Dudleys in Duldey Square. Eat in the bar on white, marble topped tables and savour the local badinage. Try the Tuscan White Bean Soup and then go straight for the pan fried swordfish. Stroll home in the balmy evening past the oldest house in town, a white clap board two storey residence on South Mill Street which was built in 1784 for a clergyman who later sold it to a manufacturer of mustard. Set amid skyscrapers, the old house conjures an interlude of peace.

This year. the Kentucky Derby is run on Saturday. May 4th but book early the folks have got out their coolers and portable barbies and are already on their way to the track.

LUCKY KENTUCKY I KNEW I was flying into, horse country when, as the overhead sign was switched got off the little man beside men from the overhead… I KNEW I was flying into, horse country