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Kentucky Road Trip: A Thoroughbread Yearling Sale and KFC’s Birthplace

What is Kentucky famous for?  Being from Indonesia, I’m going to state the obvious: KFC!  And what else?  Well, a few more things come to mind: bourbon, Mammoth Cave National Park, and the Kentucky Derby.  While Johnny and I have yet to tour the distilleries and descend into the caves, during our fifth-year wedding anniversary Canada-US road trip we were able to squeeze in a little time to admire some pretty horses and drop in at the cafe where the world-famous Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) got its start.

Keeneland in Lexington, KY

On the last leg of our journey back to Atlanta, we spent one night in a city that’s dubbed the “Horse Capital of the World”– Lexington, Kentucky.  I was determined that we were not going to leave Lexington without visiting either the Kentucky Horse Park or the Keeneland Race Course.  Keeneland won over, and we thought we would just casually stroll the grounds and have a firsthand look at a horse racing venue.

A Keeneland/Rolex lamppost clock

A Keeneland/Rolex lamppost clock

Keeneland, Lexington, KY

Keeneland, Lexington, KY

Once Johnny and I arrived at Keeneland, we were in for a surprise.  There was a lot of commotion and the grounds was quite packed that we had a hard time finding a parking spot.  It turned out that we could not have timed our trip more perfectly, as on that day Keeneland was having its September Yearling Sale.  I had no idea that Keeneland is known not only for racing, but also as the world’s largest Thoroughbred auction house.  Quoting their website:

“As the world’s leading Thoroughbred auction house, Keeneland has sold more champions and stakes winners than any other sales company, including 83 Breeders’ Cup World Championship winners; 19 Kentucky Derby winners; 21 Preakness winners; 18 Belmont winners; 11 recipients of the Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year; and five Epsom Derby winners.”

I’m a novice when it comes to horses and anything equestrian related, so I was beyond elated to be in the company of so many gorgeous (and expensive) yearlings.  First, Johnny and I walked around the barn area, where horses from various farms were kept before they were shown to potential buyers.  Boy, you could tell these animals were worth a lot because handlers and caretakers were constantly grooming and looking after them to look their best.

Looking all nice and shiny

Looking all nice and shiny

Signs in the barn area indicating the horses' farm of origin

Signs in the barn area indicating the horses’ farms of origin

From the barns, the young horses were led out and taken to a detached holding ring behind the Sales Pavilion.  Handlers walked the yearlings around so that agents and buyers could inspect and analyze them before the bid.  Monitors at the holding ring showed the auction live, and we could see the exorbitant amount these prized horses were selling for.

First, the horses were brought from the barn area to this holding ring.

First, the horses were brought over from the barns to this holding ring.

For easy identification, each horse was assigned with a "hip number."

For easy identification, each horse was assigned with a “hip number.”

Gasp!  And I can't even remember if 360k was the final selling price.

Gasp! And I can’t even remember if $360,000 was the final price for the yearling with Hip #967.

Johnny and I then made our way to the Sales Pavilion.  There was another paddock that leads directly into the auction house — a place for the horses to be paraded around for the last time before going on stage.

One final look at the horses before place a bid on them at the auction ring.

One final look at the horses before placing a bid on them at the auction house.

The auction ring itself is reserved only for buyers and sellers.  Everyone else can sit on the benches right outside the sale ring and watch the bidding through the windows.  While snapping a few pictures Johnny warned me not to make any hand motion unless I wanted to go home with another huge loan.

Intense bidding taking place inside the selling ring

Intense bidding taking place at the sale ring

We used the remainder of our time at Keeneland to head out to the Grand Stand and the race course.  Seeing this amazing venue piqued my interest to attend a major racing event even more.  I can imagine all the excitement coming from the crowd cheering on the horses.  Right before we left, I couldn’t resist to purchase a classic Christmas ornament from the gift shop to remind us of our day at beautiful Keeneland.

Keeneland race track

Keeneland race track

The Grand Stand

The Grand Stand

Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum in Corbin, KY

You can’t call it a Johnny-and-Nanette road trip if it doesn’t involve taking a detour to an unknown town in the middle of nowhere just so that we can take pictures at a random roadside attraction most people would rather pass over.  But Sanders Cafe is not just another roadside attraction.  I mean, are you going to tell me that you’ve never seen the friendly face of Colonel Sanders that graces every Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant around the world?  Growing up in Jakarta, I sure couldn’t tell you where Kentucky was on the map, but I knew where to find the nearest KFC to my house.

Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum

Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum

Sanders Cafe is a part of National Register of Historic Places.

Sanders Cafe is a part of the National Register of Historic Places.

Harland Sanders Cafe in Corbin, Kentucky, is not to be confused with the first KFC franchise, which is located in South Salt Lake, Utah.  The story of the founding of the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants began in 1930, when Harland Sanders was tapped by the Shell Oil Company to run a service station across the street from the present location of the Sanders Café along U.S. Route 25.  In addition to selling gas, he also started serving homemade country cooking, such as fried chicken, ham, steaks, and biscuits in his own small dining space.  In 1935, the Kentucky governor awarded Sanders the honor of being a Kentucky colonel, and shortly after that Sanders Cafe was established.

Colonel Sanders' kitchen

Colonel Sanders’ kitchen

Colonel Sanders' office

Colonel Sanders’ office

Sadly, the first cafe was burned down in 1939.  But the tenacious Colonel Sanders quickly rebuilt his business, and on July 4, 1940, a new motel and a restaurant were once again opened to customers in Corbin.  Twelve years later, Sanders franchised “Kentucky Fried Chicken” for the first time to Pete Harman of South Salt Lake, Utah.

This maple hutch was used as a storage when the Cafe opened in 1940.

This maple hutch has been in the Cafe since 1940.

The dining room was designed to look like the original restaurant.

The dining room was designed to look like the original restaurant.

An example of the motel room at Sanders Court

An example of the motel room in Sanders Court

Colonel Sanders' business card

Colonel Sanders’ business card

Today Sanders Cafe has been converted into a museum where visitors can take a look at KFC memorabilia, a replica of a room from the motor court, the kitchen where Colonel Sanders came up with his original chicken recipe, and a dining room that resembles the restaurant in the 1940’s.  And of course a modern KFC has been added next to the museum, which was perfect for the hungry travelers like me and Johnny.

Johnny having a bite of chicken with Colonel Sanders

Johnny enjoying a bite of chicken with Colonel Sanders

When I first planned our road trip through Kentucky, I had no idea that the Bluegrass State could be so much fun and that it offers unique travel experiences.  Next time we come back to Kentucky it better involves some bourbon shots!

This post is a part of the #WeekendWanderlusta source of travel inspiration from around the world.


17 thoughts on “Kentucky Road Trip: A Thoroughbread Yearling Sale and KFC’s Birthplace

  1. I definitely wouldn’t have expected the combination of chicken and horses in a post about Kentucky! Those horses look gorgeous, and I’m a novice too. The story behind KFC is interesting – wouldn’t have guessed it is on the National Register of Historic Places!

    Posted by Gemma Taylor | March 27, 2015, 4:57 am
  2. I love KFC very interesting. .. never been to Kentucky. Maybe I’ll add to my UDA list 🙂

    Posted by Anne Klien ( MeAnne) | March 27, 2015, 9:39 am
  3. That horse is seriously shiny!

    Posted by whileimyoungandskinny | March 27, 2015, 11:44 am
  4. Kentucky Fried Chicken is the only American food my Italian husband likes. Hahha. I’m going to tell him you can visit the birthplace of it!

    Posted by Madalin | March 27, 2015, 2:07 pm
  5. The birthplace of KFC! How cool! I’d never heard of Sanders Cafe, definitely looks like fun! I really want to see more of America and Kentucky looks like a lot of fun 🙂

    Posted by Emily Luxton | March 27, 2015, 4:28 pm
  6. It must have been very interesting to visit the place, where KFC is from. I am not a great fan of their food, but it’s still an institution!

    Posted by Gabor Kovacs | March 27, 2015, 8:29 pm
  7. Wow! Wow! Wow! I’d give anything to go discover the birthplace of KFC. Seen so many fake “secret recipes” being passed around, it might be interesting to try and dig up the original!

    Posted by Revati Victor (Different Doors) | March 28, 2015, 6:02 am
  8. Sanders Cafe sounds like a good place to visit. I don’t really like KFC, but it would still be good to see where it came from. The horses are beautiful.

    Posted by thetraveloguer | March 28, 2015, 11:59 am
  9. I love, love, love horses.
    This place looks really neat. Worth to spend some time there.

    Posted by Christina | March 28, 2015, 4:03 pm
  10. Very intereesting I haven’t heard of this place before!

    Posted by titi81 | March 29, 2015, 3:58 pm
  11. Oh my goodness those yearlings are expensive! Interesting facts about Kentucky, I’ve never heard of Sanders Cafe.

    Posted by lalegil | March 30, 2015, 1:28 am
  12. I’ve always wanted to see this part of America, so different to the US I have experienced, I love how varied it is! Looking to drive across the states and this is a place we will be visiting, great post!

    Posted by The Roaming Renegades.com | March 30, 2015, 10:47 am
  13. Wow, I never knew the history of KFC. Very interesting place! Enjoyed your post!

    Posted by Megsy@5DT | March 30, 2015, 12:15 pm
  14. I can definitely see why you had so much fun exploring this area! I can smell the KFC from here!

    Posted by Alli Blair | March 30, 2015, 4:06 pm
  15. That’s wonderful that you showed up at Keenland on such a fun day. It’s a good thing that you listened to Johnny and didn’t accidentally motion that you wanted to bid on a horse. That would have been much more expensive than an ornament. If I ever pass through Kentucky, I am definitely stopping at Sanders Cafe. When we moved from Texas to Malaysia, my kids were so glad to find out that KFC is an international chain.

    Posted by malaysianmeanders | March 31, 2015, 5:43 am
  16. Wow what beautiful horses! It’s so weird seeing them indoors in that one picture 🙂

    Posted by Jamie | North of Something | March 31, 2015, 3:54 pm

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