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Keeneland Race Course Keeps It Classy

Visitors to Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., see Keeneland employees wearing uniforms in a range of fabrics, styles and colors. The variety of uniforms reflects the diverse duties and working conditions of the employees who wear them. Some Keeneland employees work outside, sometimes in rain, cold or heat. Other employees are never outside of air conditioning or indoor heat.

Another reason for different uniforms is seasonal versus year-round needs. Some people work only during Keenelands two racing meets, which are held for three weeks each in April and October. The seasonal employees, who are the ones most often in the public eye, work with the thousands of visitors who come to see the horses and the natural beauty of Keeneland.

The year-round employees are responsible for keeping the 907 acres of Keenelands grounds and buildings in good condition. They work as plumbers, electricians, groundskeepers, painters, carpenters and other skilled tradespeople, plus security staff and barn workers. These full-time, year-round, workers wear the same basic uniform whether they work outdoors or inside.

Keeneland pays the entire cost of each workers uniforms. The rental service, including laundering, began with Van Dyne Crotty about ten years ago and has continued with the recent ownership change to Cintas. The commercial laundering is essential to a neat, professional appearance. Richard Williams, who is in charge of uniforms for this group of employees, explains, Red clay can hardly be gotten out if you have to wash these clothes at home.

Each employee receives 15 shirts and 15 pairs of pants. That number allows one set to wear to work, seven sets hanging in the closet and seven sets at the laundry. Depending on the employees duties and working conditions, the uniforms last two to three years.

The tailored pants are a cotton/polyester blend in khaki, soft enough not to chafe. The polo shirts, in Keenelands traditional dark green, are 100 percent polyester of a breathable weave. The dark polo shirts are embroidered with the Keeneland label in gold, and on any day the employees can choose to wear either long- or short-sleeve shirts. This flexibility allows for individual comfort, which is helpful in Kentuckys variable weather.

For colder weather, each worker is issued a two-piece parka, purchased from the Outer Boundary Company. The dark green waterproof nylon shell carries the gold Keeneland emblem on the chest front. The dark green fleece jacket does not bear the emblem. Either piece can be worn alone, or they can be layered together on cold, wet days.

During warm weather, the maintenance workers wear dark green, mesh baseball-style caps. These caps have the gold Keeneland logo embroidered on the front and a black terrycloth sweatband inner liner. The caps for cold weather are of the same style but are made of dark green soft twill with the gold Keeneland logo and a white terrycloth sweatband inside. The caps are ordered through the Keeneland gift shop, which also sells similar caps to visitors.

Employees who have to work outside in the coldest weather wear Dickies standard insulated coveralls in burnt orange, rented from the uniform company. Dark green knit toboggan caps with the gold logo repeat the Keeneland identification.

The employees helped choose their uniforms, trying on the samples that the company sent. In keeping with Keene-lands overall image of traditional, formal style (adhered to in architecture, advertising, programming and other aspects of the racetrack), no T-shirts, rolled-up sleeves or baggy pants are allowed. When the final selection was made, Director of Administrative Services Don Slaughter says, They all looked pressed, neat and were comfortable. Their self esteem had a boost.

Williams added that he has no problems with acquiring the correct sizes for the 59 maintenance workers. Their uniform sizes range from small to 5XL.

The Keeneland employees most visible to the public are those who work in Guest Services during the races or horse sales. Their jobs include ushering, opening doors and answering questions. They mirror Keenelands traditional style in their tailored uniforms of button-down Oxford shirts and wool blazers, with khaki pants for the men and khaki pants or skirts for the women, all in cotton twill. For those working during the horse sales, the pants and skirts are wool.

The men wear Keeneland logo ties and may wear a gold touring cap, if desired. There is a tie for women, but they most often choose to add a scarf one with a Keeneland logo if they are working at the horse sales or one of several designs available in the Keeneland gift shop if they are on the racing side.

Guest Relations employees perform different duties than the Guest Services employees, and that is also reflected in their apparel. Guest Relations workers may wear his or her own shirts and pants or skirt but receive one dark green blazer and one blue blazer to wear on top. The blazers are made of lightweight wool.

For years, the employees working during the racing meets wore only the green blazers, while those working at the horse sales alternated between green and blue blazers. Then a former supervisor decided that the employees working during the races could also wear both blue and green blazers.

According to Carol Gilbert, guest relations supervisor for the grandstand and uniform coordinator, some customers protested because the blue was not the traditional Keeneland green. Now the race goers are used to the two colors of blazers. Gilbert says, We always open the race meet wearing green, with blue for the second week and back to green for the last week.

Gilbert, Toni Corman, Bill Moore and their boss, Howard McKenzie, supervise mostly retired people who are thrilled to be part of the Keeneland scene the horses, the people and the beautiful landscaped areas for three weeks. Employees who live in the area are allowed to keep their blazers at home. Employees who live out of state turn their blazers in at the end of the meet. Keeneland gives a dry cleaning stipend or will have the blazers dry cleaned at the employees preference.

Guest Relations employees supply their own shirts and pants or skirts. Most of them work indoors or just outside of the buildings where they still are fairly protected from the elements. A few Guest Relations employees are stationed in the paddock area. While they have the advantage of being able to see the parading horses and jockeys up close, they sometimes have to stand outside for hours while its raining. On these days they wear a 3/4-length waterproof coat over their blazers. The coat is dark green with the gold Keeneland logo and is supplied by the track.

The blazers and other Guest Relations apparel are stored in a large walk-in closet that must be a smaller version of the costume shop at Disney World. In most cases, employees who return to work during the sales or the next racing meet will wear the same blazers they wore previously.

Keeping track of all of the 650 blazers and other apparel (sizes 38-56 for men, 6-28 for women) is fairly easy, thanks to a spreadsheet program set up by Guest Relations employee Gaines Cole. It is easy to determine who wore which blazer, what size and when, whether it was last meet or a year or more ago.

The spreadsheet program also helped when part of the film Dreamer was shot at Keeneland. The movies wardrobe staff borrowed some of Keenelands uniforms to dress their fictitious security, maintenance and guest relations employees.

Keenelands security employees wear uniforms of different colors so they are highly visible in any crowd and not confused with other employees. Their tan cotton/polyester shirts have dark brown pocket flaps and epaulets, and each employee may wear either a long-sleeve or short-sleeve shirt on any day. With the long-sleeve shirt, security agents must wear a black tie. A green patch with the Keeneland logo and Security is sewn on both sleeves. The uniform pants are dark olive green in a cotton/polyester blend. Security personnel wear a brown, mesh straw trooper-style hat year round.

For outerwear they have two different waist-length jackets. The lightweight one is of brown nylon with a flannel lining. The heavier jacket has a brown nylon shell insulated with polyfil and has a zip-out lining. Both jackets have the Keeneland security patches attached on the shoulders. For rainy weather, each officer has a full-length black waterproof coat with white reflective patches on the chest and both sleeves, and a reflective Security in large letters across the back.

Keenelands employees wear different uniforms for different jobs but all for the same purpose: to represent racing in the traditional manner. Whether they are greeting a VIP guest at the clubhouse entrance, maintaining order or mowing the grass, they look classy, just like the thoroughbreds that race at Keeneland.

For information about attending the spring or fall racing meets, go to www.Keeneland.com

Above story first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Fall & Winter 2006 issue. All rights reserved. Photos appear by special permission.
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