Keeneland Hopeful to Renew Toyota Sponsorship

Keeneland hopes to retain a sponsorship agreement with Toyota for Blue Grass Stakes.

Keeneland officials are hopeful the racetrack’s partnership with Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky, sponsor of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), continues, Keeneland president Nick Nicholson said April 7.

Toyota has sponsored the Blue Grass since 1996, making it one of the longest-running and most successful sponsorships in Thoroughbred racing. The company employs about 7,000 people at its Central Kentucky plant.

Toyota for months has been on the hot seat amid claims of sudden acceleration in some of its vehicles. There have been lawsuits, and most recently the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it plans to fine the company $16.4 million in connection with the situation.

Incentives announced in early March have triggered an increase in sales for Toyota, which has recalled more than eight million vehicles.

As the largest private employer in Central Kentucky, Toyota remains popular in the Bluegrass State, and Nicholson acknowledged he considers the company’s Blue Grass sponsorship a good fit.

“We all want it to continue, and I anticipate it will continue,” Nicholson said in response to a question about whether the company would continue the sponsorship in light of its current problems. “The dealers in Central Kentucky really like it.”

The sponsorship, at one time a three-year deal, is now renewed year-to-year. Nicholson said that stemmed from the casual nature of the relationship between Keeneland and Toyota.

In comments made during the April 7 post-position draw for the April 10 Blue Grass, Nicholson said Keeneland and Toyota have worked “to keep the sponsorship alive and relevant. We’ve never been prouder to have Keeneland associated with Toyota.”

As racetracks go, Keeneland has an unusually large stable of race sponsors despite the economic downturn. In all, 16 stakes carry a sponsor’s name in 2010. Sponsors range from horse farms to prominent Kentucky businesses.