Disagreements in early Kentucky were not always settled by duels, but often, by a horse race, run in a straight course of about a quarter mile distance on the public roads. Quarter horses were specifically bred to run these straight-coursed races. The first circular track appeared in American in 1780. In the February 16, 1778, Kentucky Gazette, there was a notice of an English bred quarter horse "Pilgarlick" standing at stud in Lexington. Thoroughbreds, also of English stock and bred to run the longer distance of a circular track, appeared in Kentucky in 1797 with the horse "Blaze". Colonel William Whitley, at his estate "Sportsman's Hill" is credited with building the first circular track in Kentucky.
Whitley settled in Kentucky in 1775 from Virginia. In 1788, Whitley began to hold annual fall racing. The races became so popular that the Lincoln County Court "Ordered...to view the most convenient way for a road from Whitley's race path to the courthouse and report thereof to the court".
By 1800, the sport of horse racing had spurred the building of tracks in Georgetown, Danville, Bardstown, Shelbyville, Versailles, Winchester, and Maysville, Kentucky.