How Kentucky horse racing was born at a Lincoln County home

LINCOLN COUNTY, Ky. (WYMT) - One of Kentucky's oldest homes is also the birthplace of one of our state's most popular sports and pastimes.

Lincoln County was recently given ownership of the William Whitley House.

It was one of the first brick houses - not only in Kentucky but in this part of the country. The home also became a very popular place in the pioneer days for this country's first horse races.

"Col Whitley started racing horses across the road in the fall of 1788," said Martha Francis, a historic interpreter. "I'm sure there was some wagering that went on. Men who wanted bragging rights."

Horse racing was popular with the British, so Whitley decided to give American horse racing a twist.

"Because of his great disdain for the British, he raced his horses on clay instead of turf," said Francis. "And he ran counter-clockwise instead of clockwise."

Every oval racetrack since then, from car to track and field events, are all run in counter-clockwise.

Horse racing started early in the morning with an elaborate breakfast. Spectators gathered on Sportsman Hill.

"And they became very popular. In fact, they were so popular the Lincoln County court ordered a road built from the courthouse in town," Francis said.

Racing continued all the way to the Civil War, years after Col. Whitley died in the War of 1812, becoming a big part of not only local but state and national history.

Lincoln County officials said they are talking with both Keeneland and Churchill Downs representatives on how they can further enhance their horse racing history by advertising the local ownership of the William Whitley House.

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