The Kentucky Equine Education Project officially approved plans for a marketing and education blitz for the Bluegrass state this year, and also hired a high-powered lobbying firm to help it achieve its legislative goals.The KEEP board of directors Jan. 5 unanimously agreed to spend $1.345 million on a four-phase awareness campaign that includes billboards, radio and television advertisements, and advocacy. It will lead up to the 2006 General Assembly session, at which the organization expects to be quite active.The second phase, now under way, is designed to "get their attention," according to the marketing firm red7e. On Jan. 4, the first billboards were unveiled in Lexington, Louisville, and Frankfort that state: "Welcome to New York, Horse Capital of the World." Future billboards will use Florida and West Virginia.The three states are considered serious competition for Kentucky because they have breed development programs or purses fueled by gaming revenue."It has almost been too successful," KEEP executive director Claria Horn Shadwick said of the billboard campaign. "We were hoping it would take a few weeks for people to figure it out. It has been very effective. We've gotten lots of earned media already."KEEP hopes to leave no stone unturned in its quest to get the horse industry recognized in all 120 Kentucky counties. Grass-roots efforts include having displays with brochures at all feed stores in the state.The organization has so far collected $2.8 million from its recent stallion-season auction, and expects the total to hit $3.5 million when some unsold seasons change hands. Shadwick said the successful fund-raising efforts would support the marketing and legislative initiatives.On the legislative side, the board hired Capital Link Consultants, which is based in Frankfort, the state capital. Principals include John Cooper, a former chief of staff for the state Senate; Richard "Smitty" Taylor, an attorney and former chairman of the Kentucky Racing Commission; and W. Scott Douglas, who has worked for Republican politicians including Kentucky Sens. Jim Bunning and Mitch McConnell.Lawmakers this year must devise a budget and may tackle a tax modernization plan sought by Gov. Ernie Fletcher."The General Assembly is beginning to get the message that people are becoming very impatient with the impasse, not only the budget but on a number of issues," Cooper said.The KEEP board also approved its legislative priorities: As previously reported by bloodhorse.com, they are removal of a statutory requirement that out-of-state residents who purchase weanlings and yearlings must remove them from the state within a certain period of time to avoid a tax; elimination of a tax on feed, fencing, and farm equipment; and a shift of money generated by a tax on stud fees from the state's general fund to proposed breed development programs.In all, more than $23 million would be generated for the horse industry. KEEP also formed a committee to work in conjunction with the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association as it develops options for a Thoroughbred breed development program.KEEP chairman Brereton Jones said the program would be multi-breed even though Thoroughbreds would account for most of the revenue. KEEP itself is a multi-breed organization."The general consensus is we ought to focus on setting up programs for all breeds," Jones said. "We're only talking about very few dollars for some of the breeds, but no matter how small it is, it ought to be segregated. We think it would be helpful for all breeds to have a starting point."There appears an outside chance, given the state's budget woes, that the legislature could discuss expanded gaming. KEEP hasn't taken a position on the topic, and it remains unclear whether lawmakers will call on the racing industry for assistance.Turfway Park president Bob Elliston, a KEEP board member, said racetracks haven't changed their position that if gaming becomes a focus of legislators, the tracks need to be part of it. He said the tracks, however, wouldn't "tilt windmills" during the 2005 session if legislation appears to have no shot at passage."We're all in this together, and what's good for one is good for all," Elliston said KEEP.