10 great places to watch Thoroughbreds thunder by

In the heart of bluegrass country, Keeneland spells high tradition unlike any other racetrack in the USA. "Its impeccably kept grounds, with ivy-covered stone buildings and handsome spectator areas, are set among beautiful groves of oak and sycamore," Smith-Baranzini says. "The surrounding countryside is checkered with some of the most prestigious horse farms in the country." Racing seasons are each April and October. 800-456-3412; keeneland.com

Pimlico Race Course Baltimore

With Derby excitement still reverberating, the winning horse and jockey will have settled in at Pimlico to prepare for the Preakness Stakes (May 17), the second leg of the Triple Crown. "Pimlico, opened in 1870, is the second-oldest racetrack in America," Smith-Baranzini says. "It's a truly prestigious sporting facility with a storied history." One unique claim to fame: The U.S. House of Representatives adjourned one day in 1877 so members could attend a race. This year's season runs through June 7. 410-542-9400; pimlico.com

Gulfstream Park Hallandale, Fla.

"Combine South Florida's warm winter climate, beaches, boutiques and nightlife with Gulfstream Park's Mediterranean-styled racetrack, and the tourist appeal borders on the endless," Smith-Baranzini says. Gulfstream, about 10 miles north of Miami Beach, hosts a winter meet (early January to mid-April). "The road to the Kentucky Derby often starts right here." 954-454-7000; gulfstreampark.com

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club Del Mar, Calif.

"Just a mile inland from the ocean, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club epitomizes the California dreamer's perfect race park," Smith-Baranzini says. "It's a lush, romantic, Spanish-styled paradise, vibrant with tropical flowers and soft pastel archways. The summer meet (July 16 to Sept. 3) is always a draw for big Hollywood names." Several appealing beach towns are located nearby, including La Jolla, San Clemente and Del Mar. "And of course, San Diego with all its attractions is right next door." 858-755-1141; dmtc.com

Oaklawn Park Hot Springs, Ark.

With a season running from January into mid-April, Oaklawn offers plenty of Kentucky Derby-qualifying action. "Area residents stay and socialize over Oaklawn's popular dinner fare, now a track institution," Smith-Baranzini says. "The Hot Springs region boasts a vibrant arts community, restored Victorian resort hotels, scenic mountains and numerous lakes for fishing and boating." 800-625-5296; oaklawnpark.com

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