Keeneland Steps Away From KEEP Membership

Officials said the association will keep working to address issues in Kentucky.

Keeneland has dropped out of the Kentucky Equine Education Project but intends to continue working with the organization and others to further Thoroughbred racing and breeding in the state.

KEEP is a multi-breed advocacy group with multiple functions, including lobbying the state General Assembly on legislative issues. Keeneland has been active in KEEP from its inception and former Keeneland president and chief executive officer Nick Nicholson was a board member.

Nicholson retired Sept. 1 after about 13 years as the leader of Keeneland. He was replaced by Bill Thomason, who had served as chief financial officer at Keeneland.

"Over the last decade, KEEP has done a tremendous job of uniting the various breeds and educating a grassroots network about various equine issues," Keeneland director of communications Julie Balog said Oct. 4. "There remains a multitude of issues that still face our state and our industry, and Keeneland remains committed to working with all constituencies to enhancing Kentucky's signature industry and maintaining its international prominence."

The previous day, Balog told the Louisville Courier-Journal the cost of membership played a role in the decision.

In an interview with The Blood-Horse in late September, Thomason said the association fully intends to remain legislatively active. Judy Taylor has served as Keeneland's longtime lobbyist; other members of KEEP also have their own lobbyists.

"We've got to find ways where we can work toward a common end that is going to be what's best for the horse and participants in this business," Thomason said. "(In Kentucky) we're going to find ways to work legislatively because we have an international business here that is a tremendous economic generator for the state of Kentucky and the community.

"There are places we can work together to better this business, and we're committed to finding those places."

KEEP executive director Patrick Neely couldn't be immediately reached to comment on the development.

KEEP's legislative efforts have been focused on alternative gaming at racetracks, but the organization has advocated for other things, such as breeders' incentives, sales tax relief, and Instant Racing. It also has developed a membership network and spearheaded grassroots initiatives in all 120 counties in Kentucky.