Sonador; it means 'dreamer' in Spanish. In the Horse Capital of the World, we fully understand what it means to dream of racing greatness. Writer and director John Gatins has created a moving tale about a trainer and his daughter who rehabilitate a badly injured horse to run in the Breeder’s Cup. Set entirely in the Bluegrass, movie-goers all over the world will get an inside look at the industry that has made us famous.
Visitors to the region can see first-hand the extraordinary landscape that serves as a backdrop for the movie. Here's a guide to the locations where the Kentucky footage was shot, and some must-sees for Dreamer movie fans. Driving the complete route will take you about an hour and forty-five minutes.
For an illustrated map in PDF format, click here.
1. Thoroughbred Park. What better place to start your Dreamer Driving Tour than this 2.5 acre oasis dedicated to racing’s immortal champions. Park on Eastern Avenue or Short Street bordering the park if you’d like an up close look at these magnificent life-size bronze sculptures. Sonador, called Sonya for short, is a fictional equine character, but she most certainly would have been able to trace her lineage back to the great Lexington who dominated bloodlines of the 19th Century. Don't miss the statue of this great Thoroughbred at the east end of the park.
Proceed west on Main Street, a one-way street, for about six blocks. Turn left on Broadway at Triangle Park.
2. Triangle Park. Designed by architects Zion & Breen in 1982, the Triangle Park Fountain is recognized as one of the premier signature water feature designs in the U.S. The fountains are active from early April until the danger of freezing. The Hilton Hotel and the Hyatt Regency both overlook this popular park.
Proceed south on Broadway. Turn right onto Red Mile/Forbes Road at stop light. You’ll see distinctive Floral Hall on your right.
3. Floral Hall/Stable of Memories. This unique octagonal building was built in 1879 as an exhibit hall for flowers when the Red Mile Harness Track site was a fairground, and later served as a horse barn. It is now used for special events.
4. The Red Mile Harness Track. Lexington isn’t just about thoroughbreds like Sonador. Since 1875, more harness racing world records have been established on this red clay track than at any other. The Kentucky Futurity, the final race of trotting's "Triple Crown," is run here. Visitors are welcome to stroll the grounds between 7 a.m. and dark. During race meets, the barn area is closed.
Continue on Red Mile Road. The track "backside" will be to your right. Turn left at Versailles Road. (US 60 West), passing houses, horse supply companies and other commercial development as you drive to the outskirts of town. Calumet Farm is approximately 3 miles out.
5. Calumet Farm. The red and white barns to your right are on perhaps the most famous horse farm in the world. Calumet dominated Thoroughbred racing between 1931 and 1963. No other farm has matched its eight Kentucky Derby winners. (You can view the two million dollar Calumet trophy collection at the Kentucky Horse Park.) For more insight into the drama of Lexington ’s horse industry, read Anne Auerbach’s “Wild Ride: The Rise and Tragic Fall of Calumet Farm, Inc.”
6. Blue Grass Airport. Directly across from Keeneland and Calumet and surrounded by farmland, Bluegrass Airport offers arguably the most beautiful air approach in the world. If you are here during a race meet or horse sale, you might be lucky enough to see two nearly identical white 747s belonging to Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai and owner of Raceland Farm, Gainsborough and Darley at Jonabell and his brother Sheik Hamdan bin Rashid al-Maktoum, deputy ruler of Dubai and owner of Shadwell Farm. The royal family of Dubai is active in Lexington ’s horse industry and undoubtedly inspired the characters of Prince Tariq and his brother Sadir in the movie "Dreamer."
7. Keeneland Race Course. Sonador’s victory at the Breeder’s Cup was filmed at this National Historic Landmark. The well-groomed shrubbery spelling out “Keeneland” is easily visible as Sonador approaches the finish line. Though plenty of extras showed up on filming days, some fans are actually inflatable “dummies” developed by Joe Biggins and debuted during the filming of “Seabiscuit” at Keeneland in 2003. Keeneland has never actually hosted a Breeder’s Cup; it isn’t large enough. Visitors are welcome at Keeneland year-round. If you stop in early in the morning, you’ll catch horses working out on the track. Be sure to explore the paddock area with its giant sycamore trees. During race meets in April and October, only owners have access to the paddock area. Wander over to the Track Kitchen for a hearty, inexpensive breakfast.
Turn right onto Rice Road (Hwy. 1969 N), the next road on the right.
8. Keeneland Grandstand . To your right is an excellent view of the track and grandstand. Keeneland’s 922-acre pastoral setting creates an atmosphere unique in the horseracing industry.
9. Keeneland Training Center. On your left, trainers use Keeneland's six-barn, 240-stall center, as a training location year-round.
10. Manchester Farm. This 275-acre Thoroughbred breeding farm takes its name from Manchester Spring, popular rendezvous point for Kentucky pioneers. Locals say that the antebellum mansion was the inspiration for "Tara" in Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind."
Turn right onto Van Meter Road , passing Manchester’s lovely blue and white barns with cupolas and dormers on your right.
11. Plank Fencing. Remember the scenes on the Crane farm with their neighbor’s brilliant white fencing in the background? As you drive along Van Meter, notice that the wooden plank fencing on one side of the road is painted black; the fencing on the other side is painted white. Some farm operators believe that the traditional white provides better visibility to the horses and is more attractive; black requires less frequent repainting –a valid economic concern. Plank fencing costs about $18,000 a mile, before painting. The Crane home place used in the movie is actually in Louisiana and not Lexington.
After you've driven about a mile along Van Meter, you’ll begin to appreciate why writer/director John Gatkins told columnist Rich Copely that Lexington offered “an embarrassment of riches” when it came to shooting locations. The buildings of the original Calumet Farm will come into view on your left. Travel on Van Meter just under two miles before it dead-ends at US 60. Turn right at US 60, Versailles Road , passing the airport and Keeneland a second time.
12. The Castle. Just past the Woodford County line, on your right about three miles out, is one of the Bluegrass Region's most unusual structures - an eight-turreted castle with 70-foot high corner towers. It may look like the set of a movie, but it was built in 1969 as the private residence of a Lexington developer. He never finished it. It was purchased by Thomas Post, a Miami lawyer and real-estate investor, for nearly $1.8 million in 2003 and went up in flames shortly thereafter. It was rebuilt, and it is now open as a luxury boutique vacation hide-away.
For a short detour turn right onto scenic Hwy. 1967 North (Pisgah Pike), a favorite of "Dreamer" location scouts. A good view of the west side of the castle can be found on your right.
13. Castle Hills Farm. The pastures on your left are home to American Saddlebred horses. Kentucky 's only native breed was developed as a hardy, surefooted and intelligent riding horse. The farm also raises Tennessee Walking horses.
14. Pisgah Presbyterian Church. Irish and Scottish settlers in Woodford County organized this church in 1784. Revolutionary War soldiers are buried in the small cemetery adjoining the lovely stone sanctuary.
Turn around in the church lot and return to Versailles Road via Pisgah Pike. Turn right back onto US 60, or for another short detour, cross US 60 directly ahead, and travel down Shannon Run Road.
15. Kesmarc ( Kentucky Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center). Injuries are a reality in the world of horse racing. This facility specializes in rehabilitation with a variety of state of the art techniques including aquatic therapies. Like Sonador, many horses treated or conditioned at Kesmarc successfully return to competition. Scenes filmed at the equine swimming pool ended up on the cutting room floor, but if you call ahead, you may tour this facility. (859) 873-9955
Return to US 60 and turn left.
16. Crittenden Cabin. Immediately beyond Cabin Brook Golf Course, this cabin on your right was built about 1783 by the father of John Jordan Crittenden. It was moved to this spot. Truly a career politician, Crittenden had a habit of resigning from one position to take another. He served six terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives, was appointed Kentucky's secretary of state, was elected a U.S. senator on four occasions, was elected governor of Kentucky and served as U.S. attorney general under two presidents.
Turn right onto US 60 West. Continuing straight on Business District US 60 will take you into Versailles. (You might notice blue and white signs for the Bluegrass Driving Tour as you pass US 62 and elsewhere on your journey. The Bluegrass Driving Tour takes a different route through horse country.)
17. Ashford Stud. With blue trimmed barns and distinctive cupolas, the farm to your left figures prominently in the movie "Dreamer," including the opening sequence. Home to 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus as well as 1995 Derby winner Thunder Gulch, Ashford Stud will show their majestic stallions by advance appointment. (859) 873-7088. Many of Ashford Stud's stallions travel to the Southern hemisphere after the Kentucky breeding season ends, so they may not be at home July through January. Ashford Stud is home to Giant’s Causeway , son of Storm Cat and Mariah’s Storm on whom the movie is based. (Mariah’s Storm lived at Creekview Farm east of Paris until 2008.) You’ll remember an awestruck Dakota Fanning walking through the stallion barn at Ashford when they were still hopeful that Sonador could be bred. The horses you see in the stalls in the movie are stand-ins, not the multimillion dollar stallions who really live there.
Watch for the tall silver silo just ahead and turn right onto Steele Road , County Road 1685. You’ll travel for two miles on Steele Road . Pay close attention to the many gates you will pass. They all have the same style because they all belong to the same farm.
18. Gainsborough Farm. After the death of Sheik Maktoum bin Rashid al Maktoum, this farm became the property of Darley Stud and HRH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and current absolute ruler of Dubai. The 1,987 acres of Gainsborough encompass both sides of Steele Road and can also be seen from US 60. It employs an army of grounds keepers, stone masons, grooms and veterinary technicians and maintains its own water supply and purification system, its own Doppler weather monitoring equipment, its own fiber optic communications system, its own x-ray developing room and a fully equipped lab.
At Old Frankfort Pike ( County Road 1681), take a right.
19. Old Frankfort Pike. The beautiful road between Frankfort and Lexington is a State Scenic Byway and passes through six historic districts and by four National Historic Register properties.
20. Offutt-Cole Tavern. On your right at the intersection of US 62 and Old Frankfort Pike, this structure has been a dwelling, an inn, a tavern and a tollgate house. The log section dates to the 1700's. Travelers stopped for rest and repast here beginning in 1804, when William Dailey opened a stagecoach inn. As early as 1807, journalists were writing about the excellent meals offered. You can’t eat here anymore, but you’re only minutes away from Wallace Station.
21. Wallace Station. Like Marshall ’s Backstretch Diner in "Dreamer," this spot is very popular with the people who work at the magnificent farms nearby. Sandwiches, soups, ice cream and pastries are offered till about 5:00 p.m.
22. Three Chimneys Farm. This farm seen on both sides of the road has been home to many top Thoroughbreds, including Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, 1997 Derby winner Silver Charm and beloved 2004 Derby winner Smarty Jones. Tours are offered, but you must book well in advance to meet their current super stars. (859) 873-7053
23. Headley-Whitney Museum. The late George Headley, a fine arts collector, created this eclectic three-building museum. Oriental porcelains, paintings, masks, a "Shell Grotto," and Headley's specialty - unusual jeweled bibelots - are featured. For museum hours, call (859) 255-6653.
24. Donamire. The impressive 600-acre Thoroughbred breeding farm on the left was built in the early 1980's, and includes its own training center. Like many farms, they take their landscaping very seriously. Donamire maintains its own greenhouse and small nursery. The Saudi prince’s home, called Wishman Farm in the movie, is actually Donamire. The tall white gates however, belong to Castleton Lyons Farm.
25. Darby Dan Farm. Built by the late Ohio real estate magnate (and onetime Pittsburgh Pirates owner) John Galbreath, this 650-acre farm on the left has been the home of such Thoroughbred champions as Kentucky Derby winners Chateaugay and Proud Clarion, as well as Epsom Derby winner Roberto.
26. Lexington-Fayette County Detention Center. Unless you read the sign carefully, you’d think the facility to your left was just another multi-million dollar horse farm, but in fact it is Lexington ’s state-of-the-art jail. Designed to fit in with the surrounding countryside that is home to some of the most prestigious farms in the region, the jail opened in 2000.
Cross over the overpass and take the ramp to your left to enter New Circle Road (4 North) for a quick shortcut to Newtown Pike. Pass the Leestown Road and Georgetown Road interchanges and take Exit 9 to Newtown Pike.
27. Carnahan House. On the University of Kentucky ’s Coldstream Research Farm stands the large house used in the scenes where young Cale Crane made her case to have Sonador entered into the Breeder’s Cup race. Once a prominent horse farm, Coldstream is home to technology-based companies, university centers, startups and businesses, including the Embassy Suites Hotel, and employs more than 1,000 people. Just across the road is the Griffin Gate Marriott Resort, where the stars of "Dreamer " stayed while filming.
Note: The Shell station on your right after you pass under the interstate carries the Krispy Creme doughnuts used to taunt jockey Manolin at an early morning pre-Breeder’s Cup workout.
Turn left at the flashing four-way stop onto Ironworks Parkway.
28. Kentucky Horse Park. No visit to the Bluegrass region would be complete without a visit to this 1,200 acre state park, home to more than 50 breeds of horse, the International Museum of the Horse, The Saddlebred Museum and the National Horse Center . The park is open seven days a week from April through October; Wednesday through Sunday during the winter. (859) 233-4303. If you are short on time, pull in and visit the statues of Man o War and other champions outside the visitor center. You might want to visit the gift shop as well.
Exit the Kentucky Horse Park by turning left back towards Newtown Pike.
29. Spindletop Hall. The fabulous mansion at the end of the drive on your right was built in the mid-1930's by Pansy Yount, widow of the discoverer of the famous Spindletop oil field in Texas . The property is now a private club for the University of Kentucky faculty and alumni.
Continue on Ironworks Pike, after stopping at the flashing red light at Newtown Pike.
30. Hemp House. The small brick building to your right at the corner of Iron Works and Newtown was used for hemp processing. Hemp, grown for rope and other uses, was Kentucky 's largest cash crop in the early 1800's. Now, horses are! Horse sales, including stud fees, are the leading commodity for the state of Kentucky producing approximately $1 billion in cash receipts in 2008.
31. Castleton Lyons Farm. Throughout its long and rich history, this farm has produced Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds and Saddlebreds. The farm traces its origin to Cabell's Dale Farm, founded by John Breckinridge (Attorney General under Thomas Jefferson) in 1793; his daughter married a Castleman, and the farm was renamed Castleton in the 1840's. One of Ireland's richest men, Ryan Air magnate Dr. Tony Ryan purchased the farm in 2001. The farm passed to his sons after his death in 2006. The farm’s impressive gates were used in the film as the entrance to Prince Sadir’s home. Cale and her Dad took advantage of the sibling rivalry between Prince Sadir and Prince Tariq to raise the fees for Sonador to participate in the Breeder’s Cup.
32. Jot ‘em Down Store. The small country store at the corner of Iron Works and Russell Cave roads takes its name from the fictitious Arkansas store featured in the "Lum and Abner" radio program of the 1930's and '40's Chester Lauck, who played Lum, supposedly stopped in this store during a visit to the Bluegrass and gave his official permission to use the name. "Jot 'em down" refers to the practice of extending credit. Stop in for a boloney sandwich and an Ale-8-1.
Continue straight across Russell Cave Road. (KY 353)
33. Spendthrift Farm. This 2,000-acre farm has an unusual U-shaped stud barn. Spendthrift stallions, Nashua , Gallant Man, and Raise a Native are all buried nearby. Majestic Prince, 1969 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner and sire of stakes winners was bred by Spendthrift. At one time Spendthrift was home to two of America 's three living Triple Crown winners.
34. Elmendorf Farm. Under James Ben Ali Haggin, who bought the farm in 1887, Elmendorf grew to 10,000 acres, and included a model dairy, greenhouses full of exotic plants and a lavish $300,000 mansion, Green Hills. The house was torn down in 1929 by a later owner who considered taxes on the unoccupied home excessive; only the marble columns remain standing. Look carefully to your left: when the leaves are off the trees you might be able to spot them.
Turn left from Ironworks onto Paris Pike US 27-68.
35. Gainesway. This 1,500-acre breeding farm was built by John Gaines, son of the creator of the first nutritionally balanced packaged dog food. Gaines was the founding father of the Breeders Cup championships, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the Kentucky Horse Park . He passed away in February of 2005. Numerous top stallions make their home in the unusual A-frame barns.
36. Normandy Farm. One of the most unusual barns in the Bluegrass is located on this 262-acre Thoroughbred farm. The 12-stall L-shaped barn was built in 1927 by then-owner Joe Widener. Patterned after a barn in Normandy , France , the barn includes a clock tower, slate roof and roof ornaments in the forms of bird, cats and other creatures. Also on the farm is a full-size statue of Man o' War’s sire Fair Play, who, along with Man o' War's dam Mahubah, is buried here. The farm can be seen from Paris Pike and from Hughes Rd. With an advance appointment, it is possible to visit this farm. (859) 294-9595
Just past Normandy , turn left at Hughes Road and left on Kenny Lane.
37. Clovelly Farm. Most of the Thoroughbreds born on the 700-acre farm on the left race in France . The farm was at one time part of Elmendorf, and includes a 38-stall oval barn with courtyard and training track.
38. Dixiana Farm and Domino Stud. These two separately owned farms on the right share an entrance. Dating to the 1950's, they were named, respectively, for the mare Dixie , who produced many outstanding racehorses in the 1870's, and for the great turf horse and stallion Domino. The track with the watchtower where the Crane family trained Sonador is located at Domino Stud.
Turn left from Kenny Lane back on to Ironworks, and then right onto Paris Pike, heading towards Lexington.
39. Walmac International. The stallion operation and breeding farm on the right stands an international roster of horses. Champion runner and leading sire, Nureyev, spent the last 19 years of his life at Walmac. The story of his return back to a full breeding career after a life-threatening injury rivals that of Mariah’s Storm.
40. Kentucky Thoroughbred Center. Owned by Keeneland, this training center provides the equipment and facilities for trainers to teach their horses the skills they need to become winners. The complex includes 1,100 stalls, two training tracks and a 940-seat pavilion. Guided tours are given year-round; reservations are recommended. (859) 293-1853.
41. Paris Pike. Fifteen years ago, the road from Lexington to Paris was a dangerous two lane road with no shoulders and lined with crumbling rock fences. The road you travel now is the result of years of negotiating, lobbying, planning, regrading and rebuilding. The Paris Pike Project has won national acclaim and serves as a model for highway projects through sensitive historic landscapes. This remarkable road between Paris and Lexington passes through some of the finest real estate in the Bluegrass Region and is home to hundreds of Thoroughbreds, each with their own story and each representing the hopes and dreams of owners, trainers and families just like the Cranes.
For more information about the movie "Dreamer" see www.dreamer.dreamworks.com/
Note: Farms are private property. Don’t enter farms unless you have previously received permission
Written by Lu Ann Pelle 2005
Last update: 2014