-- Past the maples and sycamores wreathed in red and gold, past the lean and lovely horses in the paddock and through the grandstand's noble arches to the sweeping vista that makes up Keeneland's timeless mystique, sits a low stone wall.

Its purpose is unclear; nominally, it separates a small, unnoticed portion of apron near the racetrack's finish line from the rest of the area in front of the grandstand.

Walter Edwards remembers when that wall separated black spectators from white, a reminder of one of Keeneland's less picturesque traditions. When he was a little boy, blacks sat in a rickety field stand near the finish line and couldn't cross into the white section.

"I would go with my parents, and I remember it was an outside wooden stand with benches," said Edwards, now 63, who works in the Keeneland paddock during the meets. "Then, after time passed by, that was torn down, things went on as usual and people adjusted to things."

But just what happened in that adjustment seems to be lost in Keeneland's storied, 68-year-old past. The "colored" grandstand was torn down in 1953 not as a harbinger of the civil rights movement but to make room for white spectators.

No one seems to remember the advent of the track's slow, unpublicized progress toward integration. At some point, the kitchen lost its separate entrances for blacks and whites, and much later the clubhouse accepted black guests and even members.

Historians are revealing the significant participation of black jockeys, trainers and backside workers in racing's early days, but the story of black spectators at such tracks as Keeneland remains ignored by the media and racetracks to this day, says Ed Hotaling, a journalist and historian.

"When you look back at the visual record, you could see there were black spectators everywhere, but everyone buried that story because in the white world they thought it would lower the social standing" of the racetrack, Hotaling said. "But the same intentional exclusion of the African American fans is still going on today. It's interesting that even today the racing establishment is not interested in black fans, which could be a tremendous source of support for a sport that is losing fans."

Keeneland President Nick Nicholson says the track's history has much to be proud of, including a long tradition of civic charity to such organizations as the Urban League and Black Achievers. But he also acknowledged "some things that don't look so good."

"I think we're doing better in outreach and African American employment," he said later. "If I had to say one sentence, we're doing better, and we need to do better still."

In the early days of U.S. horse racing, the sport was dominated by black jockeys. Thirteen of the 15 riders in the first Kentucky Derby in 1875 were black, and black jockeys won 15 of the Derby's first 28 runnings. And it's been only a few decades since blacks were the majority of workers in stables and on track backsides.

"The mere fact the African American population supplied the trainers and the jockeys indicated there would be huge support in the African American community for the races themselves," Hotaling said.

No one ever counted black attendance, but a 1941 photograph at Keeneland shows the segregated grandstand packed.

Several observers, including Nicholson, say it's ironic that the segregated grandstand was in a much better spot -- right by the finish line -- than either the white grandstand or the clubhouse. But that was by coincidence, not design. The clubhouse and the grandstand were built off founder Jack Keene's house, which overlooked the paddock, farther from the finish line.

The black grandstand was torn down in 1953 to make way for a major expansion of the white facilities. The Feb. 7, 1953, edition of Blood Horse magazine noted the expansion was necessary to accommodate swelling crowds. It does not mention black spectators.

Although there doesn't appear to have been an officially segregated place for blacks after that stand was torn down, they congregated in that section of the track throughout the 1960s and even into the 1970s.

"I think Keeneland fits into other social spaces during segregation in Lexington," said University of Kentucky historian Gerald Smith. "Segregation was de facto, and there was a reserved space for African Americans. They were in the periphery, in the stalls and in the kitchens.

"It wasn't that grand vision that most whites see of Keeneland. Blacks saw Keeneland through a different lens -- a lens crowded with dirt and sweat."

Longtime horseman Mack Hurt, who is black, said that after the black grandstand came down, "you couldn't sit anywhere you wanted, but you could wander around. Blacks had a tendency to segregate themselves, get together on their own."

Robert Jefferson, a former city council member, remembers sitting down at that end to bet in the 1960s.

"It was a pattern, but I didn't feel any pressure to sit there because I was black," he said.

Even on cloudy days, Keeneland's fall colors glow and the horses' coats shine.

Gloria Walker said her office manager sent her to Keeneland recently as a treat.

"I'm sure there used to be problems here, but I feel quite comfortable," Walker said just before the third race. "To be honest, the only color they look at here is the color of your money."

Certainly economics dictate much of Keeneland's diversity, or lack thereof. There has never been a black member on the board of directors because, Nicholson said, membership targets people who are big horse buyers, sellers and racers in the mostly white business.

As recently as 1988, Keeneland opposed an anti-bias measure in the state legislature that would have forbidden any private club to discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color, religion or national origin. Keeneland officials said they might have been punished for giving clubhouse memberships based on horse ownership. The measure died.

Nicholson said Keeneland's other anachronisms, such as black attendants in the clubhouse bathrooms, aren't part of some Old South ambiance.

"My guess is that as those people retire, we'll do something different," he said. "I think it's perhaps a little anachronistic, yet on the other hand, it does have a side of Keeneland that is very customer service-oriented."

Author Hotaling says he's bewildered that tracks like Keeneland don't increase their minority fan base by going into schools and communities and explaining the role of African Americans in racing. Most tracks complain of dwindling attendance, but they don't tap into a historical and natural audience.

"You have major tracks [such as Pimlico in Baltimore and Churchill Downs in Louisville] in black neighborhoods, and they do absolutely nothing in terms of outreach," he said.

Although Keeneland is only 68 years old, its ambiance is of a much older, ritual-laden place, where people still talk about their shock when the track started calling races over a sound system -- in 1997.

William "Chuck" Hamilton, one of the few black trainers who run horses at Keeneland, summed up the ambivalence of a place where everyone is welcome but tradition dies hard.

"They treat me nicely when I'm here," he said, "but if tried to get a box seat, I might have a problem."

In this 1941 photo, blacks at Keeneland were restricted to a section near the finish line.