Keeneland Photo

Keeneland BC Bid in 'Due Diligence Phase'

CEO Bill Thomason said Kentucky track must be satisfied it can do it right.

With industry sources indicating a 2015 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Keeneland has a better-than-good chance of becoming reality, the president of the Lexington racetrack and auction company said April 30 it is in the "due diligence phase" of the bid.

Keeneland, before its spring meet this year, officially announced its intention to pursue the World Championships. Breeders' Cup has not yet announced a 2015 host site; its board of directors will next meet in June.

Bill Thomason, who also serves as Keeneland chief executive officer, was asked about the status of negotiations with Breeders' Cup after his luncheon address during the University of Kentucky Equine Law Conference, which is being held at Keeneland.

"We're in the final stages of identifying the relationship between Keeneland and Breeders' Cup, as well as the patron experience," Thomason said. "We're still working through the details to make this a reality."

Though it has great appeal as a host site, Keeneland's existing facility couldn't comfortably accommodate the typical Saturday Breeders' Cup crowd. Thomason was asked if things such as temporary facilities and seating could be ready by the fall of 2015.

"(If we are selected as host site), the answer to that is, 'You bet.' If 100% of the concerns aren't answered, Keeneland is not going to do it," Thomason said. "We are in the due diligence phase of making sure we can do it. If we're going to do it, we want to do it right.

"We don't have a 170,000-person facility, and we're not going to build to that. We're not going to mess with what you see (at Keeneland). We will have to do it in a way to utilize our existing facility."

Earlier, Thomason told law conference attendees no matter what Keeneland does it will remain true to its mission: maintaining tradition and generating money for the horse industry, the community, and for care of the facility. Keeneland never has hosted a Breeders' Cup, though the event would fit in with the company's mission.

"Our core mission is to provide racing at its highest level," Thomason said.

Keeneland is proud of its treatment of racing fans, said Thomason, who noted the average age of its patrons for live racing is 38. He also noted Keeneland for the past six years has been the top-rated track in the Horseplayers Association of North America racetrack ratings, which grade things such as field size and pari-mutuel takeout rates.

"We're friendly to the people who wager on horses," Thomason said.

Thomason also addressed the end of synthetic surface racing at Keeneland, where the Polytrack will be removed beginning May 19 and replaced with a dirt surface for this year's fall meet. He said the decision has much more to do with industry developments than the performance of the Polytrack surface.

"I'm extremely proud of this Polytrack," Thomason said. "It has set the standard for safety around the country. But after eight years we're on an island. It didn't become the standard."

The new dirt surface, he said, will be the result of detailed research that is a byproduct of the advent of synthetic surfaces. Successful efforts to improve safety have led to closer examination and better maintenance of dirt and turf surfaces around the country.

Keeneland will keep the base and drainage system installed for Polytrack, meaning it will have the only dirt surface with such a base. Thomason said Keeneland hasn't had problems with the asphalt base or drainage system, which were installed in 2006.