The WTA Tour will visit Kentucky for the first time on August 10 as the Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics gets underway in Lexington.

The field is set to be headed by Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens, and promises to be a thrilling spectacle as top-level tennis returns to the USA for the first time since the Tour was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic in March.

Here are six fascinating facts about the latest stop for the game’s best players.

Horse Capital of the World

Given that the Kentucky Derby is one of the most famous horse races in the world, it is unsurprising that the state’s second biggest city has a strong equine connection. Indeed, Lexington claims to be the ‘Horse Capital of the World’.

The city is surrounded by over 400 horse farms, with the local geology apparently ideal for rearing horses. As the VisitLex website explains: “The water that passes through the massive limestone shelf that lies beneath our nourishing bluegrass pastures feeds the soil and grasses that grow strong horses unlike anywhere else in the world. The high mineral content in the soils of the Bluegrass Region leads to stronger bones and greater durability in horses and helps maintain our reputation as Horse Capital of the World.”

Kentucky Derby winners Go for Gin, Western Dreamer and Staying Together all live at the Kentucky Horse Park, which attracts over one million visitors a year.

Victor Espinoza celebrates after riding American Pharoah to victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic, 2015.

Photo by Getty Images

Bourbon

Kentucky is also famous for its bourbon, the name of which derives from the French house of Bourbon in honor of King Louis XVI of France’s help during the American Revolutionary War. Indeed, next door to Lexington is Bourbon County, which is the birthplace of this variety of whiskey.

As the distilleries in the region used corn to make their liquor, it had a distinctive flavor. With the barrels shipped out of the city being marked ‘Old Bourbon’, the name stuck.

When Prohibition took effect in 1919, the industry was virtually wiped out. At that time, there were 26 distilleries in Bourbon Country, all of which were shut down, and it would not be until 2014 that bourbon production returned to the region.

Nevertheless, there are now 14 bourbon distilleries within 45 minutes of downtown Lexington, while vineyards to grow grapes for wine are becoming increasingly common sight in the local landscape.

Bluegrass Music

The bluegrass that is said to be the secret behind the region’s tremendous horses also gives its name to the local style of music, albeit in a round-a-bout route as the genre’s name actually comes from the band Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys.

Monroe, who is therefore the father of the style, described it as: “Scottish bagpipes and ole-time fiddlin'. It's Methodist and Holiness and Baptist. It's blues and jazz, and it has a high lonesome sound.”

Taking place in early June, the Festival of Bluegrass has taken place in Lexington since 1974, when it started out with humble origins, with a farm wagon acting as the stage. Since then, it has grown to become Kentucky’s biggest celebration of the music, won the International Bluegrass Music Association's Event of the Year award in 2007 and is now held at Kentucky Horse Park.

A bluegrass jam session

Photo by Getty Images

The birthplace of George Clooney

George Clooney, undoubtedly one of the most iconic figures of western cinema in the recent era, was born in Lexington on May 6, 1961.

Clooney shot to fame in hospital drama ER, in which he portrayed Dr Doug Ross from 1994 until 1999 before moving into film, initially starring in 2000 hits The Perfect Storm, O Brother, Where Art Thou? His most successful lead role came in Ocean’s Eleven a year later.

Two Academy Awards followed, as he claimed the Best Supporting Actor gong for Syriana and the Best Picture prize for his role as a producer in 2013 hit Argo, a picture he also claimed BAFTA success with in the Best Film category.

Beyond cinema, Clooney has become known for his humanitarian work in many different fields, and notably fighting for equal rights and campaigning for peace in various conflicts around the world.

Kentucky Wildcats

Lexington is the proud home of the Kentucky Wildcats, the athletic program of the University of Kentucky. It has received particular acclaim thanks to its success in the NCAA basketball tournaments, with eight national titles to its name. Furthermore, it was the first program to reach a milestone of 2000 wins and is the winningest program in college basketball history.

Although the Wildcats’ golden era came between 1948 and 1958, during which time it won four NCAA crowns, their most recent victory came in 2012 under the guidance of coach Jon Calipari.

Calipari’s coaching style has focused primarily on developing young players, which yielded an incredible five first-round picks in the 2010 NBA Draft before six Wildcats were drafted two years later.

The Kentucky Wildcats are the winningest basketball team in NCAA history

Historical importance

Kentucky’s role in the American Civil War was an important one given that it was a border state. Indeed, Abraham Lincoln said during the time: “To lose Kentucky would be nearly to lose the whole thing.”

Lincoln himself was born and brought up in the state, 83 miles southwest of Lexington at Hodgenville. A granite memorial building houses a pioneer cabin at the site, while in the town itself there is a bronze statue of Lincoln as well as a museum dedicated to him.