While the Bluegrass State is often regarded for its rich history of thoroughbred racing, most people associate that history with the Kentucky Derby of Louisville and the many beautiful horse farms and racetracks of Lexington (both located in the north central region of the state). Little consideration is ever given to Eastern Kentucky’s role in the sport of horse racing. The story of Jack Keene's Raceland Park, built in 1923, almost changed the entire conversation about Kentucky horse racing.
After buying four tracts of land near Chinnville, Kentucky, John Oliver “Jack” Keene, a horse racing promoter and owner, announced plans in 1922 to build a race track near Ashland, Kentucky. Later that year, the Tri-state Fair and Racing Association was formed. They bought Keene’s property along with adjoining tracks of land totaling 350 acres. A one-and-a-half-mile-long track was built in 1923. The Tri-state Fair and Racing Association named Mr. Keene as their general manager for the new track named “Raceland”.
As depicted by several horseracing publications of the day, the Raceland track was a marvel of beauty and design. It was referred to as the “Million Dollar Oval”. According to the January 27, 1923 issue of The Thoroughbred Record, the inside of the track was to have a garden, a lake, and flower beds. In addition, the entire grounds would be surrounded by a fence covered by honeysuckle and wild roses. The article goes on to explain that the grandstand was designed to seat 4,000 people. The modern structure, built of steel and concrete, was said to cost $110,000 alone. Eight-hundred tons of steel was used in the structure, with plans to include a paved lawn in front of it. As of the 1923 writing, other structures were planned for the sprawling acreage to include the park’s caretaker’s home, housing for horse trainers, 500 stables, and a water tower.
Raceland opened to the public during the summer of 1924 with twenty-one days of racing. The opening day featured the Ashland Handicap with an attendance of 15,000. That summer was also witness to the Raceland Derby. On July 19, 1924, the Raceland Derby boasted the entry of “Black Gold”, winner of the Kentucky, Ohio State, and the Chicago Derbies. Anticipating “Black Gold” winning a 4th derby that year, a record crowd of 27,000 attended the inaugural Raceland Derby.
Raceland continued to present horseracing in 1925 through the summer of 1928. However, the Tri-state Fair and Racing Association suffered financial problems, and Raceland Park was foreclosed on. The land and structures were sold to the highest bidder to pay the $200,000 mortgage. In an effort to reopen the track, Raceland Incorporated was formed and leased the track for a fair from July 1st to July 6th, 1929. However, Raceland, Inc. was a failed business venture, and the park never reopened to horseracing. Following the failed effort to revitalize the park for its original purpose, some structures were torn down and scraped. Over time, portions of the land were sold, and the town of Chinnville expanded to include these plots of land. Eventually, the town was renamed Raceland, Kentucky to recognize the history of the park and to remember what might have been.