As Keeneland season whinnies and rears excitedly, we celebrate its longstanding place in Kentucky’s history and Southern culture. Born and raised in Lexington, KY, Ali Hollins spent many childhood moments exploring the grounds of the iconic racecourse, and she ultimately returned to Keeneland for the most extraordinary day of her life.
Before Southern Methodist University’s homecoming football game in 2011, Ali Hollins and Ben Barshop met through mutual friends along the Dallas school’s famous tree-lined boulevard. Ali was a senior undergrad, and Ben had just started business school at Cox. Little did the pair know that, on that fall day, they’d fall in love.
Ben proposed to Ali over an intimate lunch in their first home. “It was short and sweet, but was followed by a celebration that night at the Rosewood Turtle Creek Mansion Hotel with all of our family and friends from near and far,” Ali says. “I couldn’t eat anything after he proposed, so by the time all our friends surprised us that night, I think I almost passed out from excitement!”
If you had asked Ali before she got married how long her engagement would be, she would have said eight months without a doubt. “We ended up having a long engagement of about 14 months and honestly, I wouldn’t change that. It gave us plenty of time to really enjoy the engagement period, celebrate, and plan a wonderful evening we will remember forever.”
Since Ali and Ben were in Dallas, it was nice for them to be able to lean on someone who was plugged into the event world in Ali’s hometown of Lexington. While the day ended up being everything Ali could have imagined and more — because of the help from their planner and her team — getting to that point was not without some hiccups. “A piece of advice would be to find a planner who respects your budget and your time,” Ali says.
Ali and the planners looked at lots of venues in Lexington, but Keeneland won the race. “Keeneland is a huge part of our culture in Lexington, and I love that it showcased the beautiful landscape and the racing history. It provided the perfect backdrop for our vision,” Ali says. Plus, their events team offered so many services that are typically outsourced to vendors for an additional fee.
Ali had always wanted a white wedding, so that part was easy. “I joked that I wanted it to feel like heaven with lots of white and pops of green to compliment the surroundings,” she says.
When she started the wedding dress search, Ali had no idea what she wanted. “I’m on the shorter side, so dresses I thought I would like (think Kate Middleton and lots of lace) swallowed me and were not right,” she jokes. She spotted a few dresses that she liked but wished she could combine one part from one with one part from another. “That is where Nardos came in! She brought all the aspects of each dress I liked into one amazing dress I will love forever,” Ali adds.
The rehearsal dinner was at the haute, floral-drenched Apiary in Lexington. “Nardos also made my dress for that and it was like a mini version of my wedding dress with blue flowers,” Ali says. But it started raining on Friday evening and didn’t stop overnight.
Ali had until noon on her wedding day to decide whether to move the ceremony inside or keep it outside. “At the end of the day, my vision had always been to be outside, so if there was even the slightest chance we could make it work, I wanted to try. We said a little prayer and went for it,” she adds.
Ben felt very strongly about doing a first look. “While I love the idea of seeing your person for the first time walking down the aisle, I understood that it would make Ben more comfortable to do a private first look at my home. Either way you do it, the first look is so special,” Ali says.
Like a wedding gift from some greater power above, a blanket of sunshine covered the guests as the ceremony started, reinforcing Ali’s decision and demeanor. Since Ben’s family is Jewish and Ali’s is Christian, their vows were simple and traditional.
“We had a few hiccups during the ceremony, too,” Ali recalls. “One member of the bridal party passed out (no joke!), and we had these huge army planes fly over us for what seemed like forever, which made it too loud to hear anything, so we had to just wait.” But those aren’t the things she remembers most. “I remember all the amazing things that went right. There is no need to sweat the small stuff!”
After a tender and heartfelt wedding ceremony, the couple turned excitedly toward 200 of their nearest and dearest friends and family. Let the party begin!
Ali and her father then danced to “Should Have Been a Cowboy” by Toby Keith. “For as long as I can remember that has been our song,” she tells me. “When I was little we would drive around and listen to it full blast. I will never hear that song and not think of my dad!” The rest of the guests would soon join the checkered floor, but not before some serious culinary fuel.
When it came to the food, Keeneland knocked it out of the park. “We chose to have a seated meal and I’m so glad we did,” Ali says. The scrumptious menu began with a burrata salad, Ali’s all-time favorite dish. That was followed by braised pork and chicken entrées, and a well-curated dessert course, of course.
“Martine’s makes the most wonderful and beautiful cakes around,” Ali says. From a looks perspective, Ali followed her simple and white-floral-driven theme. “I knew the cake was going to be delicious, but I’m more of an ice cream gal, so the Graeter’s ice cream cart was really important to me, and that came out during the dancing!”
After more dancing (and the dance-floor ice cream), the Barshops exited through a sea of sparklers. Next stop? A safari in South Africa for their first adventure as husband and wife. “It was the most amazing vacation I’ve ever been on and will never forget how magical it was,” she says.
“Just do what feels right,” Ali offers brides-to-be. “At the end of the day, all that matters is that you are married to the person you love.”
Thank you for taking us back to your special day, Ali and Ben. And thanks to Leslee Mitchell for the gorgeous photos. You can also follow Ali on Instagram to see their sweet, growing family’s adventures in Dallas and beyond. Off to the races!
Planner: Lauren Chitwood
Photographer: Leslee Mitchell
Videography: When it Clicks
Flowers: Lauren Chitwood
Stationery: August Blume
Hair and makeup: Ana Crane
Bride’s gown: Nardos
Bridesmaid dresses: Jenny Yoo
Groom and groomsmen attire: Q Clothier
Entertainment: Burning Las Vegas
Transportation: Gold Shield
See more stunning weddings from across the South and beyond in our Weddings archives!