McNay on Money

Keeneland: The Book

By: Don McNay
By: Don McNay

As the son of a professional gambler, I spent a lot of my childhood at race tracks. Not particularly nice race tracks.

Just give me one more crack at the ol' race track

-The Mills Brothers

 

As the son of a professional gambler, I spent a lot of my childhood at race tracks.  Not particularly nice race tracks. 

 

Dad would take us to the aging River Downs facility in Cincinnati during the day and to the even more aging Latonia race track in Northern Kentucky at night.  

 

Lots of broken down men (outside of Pete Rose's first wife, I can't remember any women) betting on broken down horses.  

 

Not a pretty sight.

 

Compare that with Keeneland, the crown jewel of Kentucky's signature industry.  Keeneland is a destination for high rollers and two dollar bettors from around the world.

 

You can run into captains of industry, or possibly Queen Elizabeth II, who visited the track in 1984.

 

The horse sales bring in buyers from around the world

 

The track and grounds are immaculate and Keeneland seems to have a place for everyone.    Both men and women.  

 

You will see college students tailgating with their friends in the parking lot.

 

The clubhouse, where proper attire is required, is a more reverent crowd taking advantage of fine dining facilities.  Keeneland is a mix of millionaires in private boxes and people who paid $5 to be in the grandstand.   

 

The management at Keeneland is very stable and traditional.  Ted Bassett was president, chairman of the board and trustee at various times from 1969 to 2007.  

 

Nick Nicholson, president since 2000, who started his career as an assistant to Senator Wendell Ford, has been in the Thoroughbred industry for decades.

 

W.B. Rogers Beasley, Director of Racing, has been with Keeneland for 30 years.  (Disclaimer: Rogers was my next door neighbor from 1985 to 1988.)

 

When you look at Keeneland's tradition, management, horses and ambiance, you immediately note one thing:

 

It's a long, long way from River Downs.  Or from almost any other horse track.

 

Where many tracks are the equivalent of a nine-hole municipal golf course, Keeneland is Augusta or Pebble Beach.

 

All of the history and elegance of Keeneland is captured in a book titled Keeneland, A Thoroughbred Legacy.

 

Edited by Jacqueline Duke, an editor at Blood-Horse publications, several high-powered writers participated in the project.  

 

Two time Pulitzer Prize nominee, Maryjean Wall, wrote a chapter entitled "Life on the Backstretch."  Longtime Lexington Herald writer, Rick Bailey, did an excellent piece called "Technology Finds a Way."

 

Noted Lexington writer and editor, Rena Baer, contributed a chapter, as did writers like Fran Taylor, Deidre Biles and Sharon Reynolds.

 

Although the writing is first rate, what is stunning about the book is the photography.   It is designed to be a coffee table style book.  The riveting pictures are what grabs your attention. 

 

The pictures help the reader grasp what the Keeneland experience is all about.

 

The book does an outstanding job of laying out the unique 75-year history of the track, but I found the last question in the book the most interesting.

 

It asks, "Can Keeneland learn from NASCAR's success?"

 

In 2009, Keeneland hired former NASCAR executive Brad Lowell to serve as Director of Information Technology.

 

The first reaction is not to put Keeneland and NASCAR in similar categories.  However, NASCAR jumped from Junior Johnson running moonshine and driving dirt tracks in the backwoods of North Carolina to become a billion dollar worldwide sensation. 

 

The fact that Keeneland is thinking "outside the box" shows that it is not going to rest on tradition and its laurels.

 

Keeneland: A Thoroughbred Legacy is a book that oozes class and tradition.  It was   put together by a top rate team of professionals.

 

In other words, it is a lot like Keeneland itself.

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