Blood-Horse magazine is celebrating its 100th anniversary. But like the Thoroughbred breeding and racing industry it covers, the Lexington-based publisher is evolving.
Change has been coming especially fast since February 2015. That is when The Jockey Club bought 51 percent of Blood-Horse LLC from the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, which had been the sole owner since 1961 and retains a 49 percent stake.
“The Blood-Horse is the last weekly (horse) magazine standing,” said John K. Keitt Jr., the publisher and editorial director, who came to Lexington last year after many years as a New York media and Thoroughbred attorney and head of global business development for The Associated Press.
The magazine, which will publish a special centennial issue Aug. 6, has been supplemented for years by a news website, Bloodhorse.com. The company also produces several niche publications, including the quarterly Keeneland magazine and the monthlies New York Breeder and California Thoroughbred.
In the past year, Blood-Horse has added a daily news PDF to download, a smartphone app, a tablet edition of the magazine and a stronger social media presence.
But Keitt says the weekly magazine isn’t going anywhere. In fact, he said there are plans to update the design, use higher-quality paper and add content.
“We went through a phase where the magazine got thinner and thinner and they were trying to save money,” Keitt said. “We now are saying we’re going to stop playing into that narrative that we’re withering. We’re actually going after it.
“We’ve got a lot to bring to the industry,” he added. “But you have to have a really great product. The content’s the most important thing, and that’s where I think we’ve got an edge.”
Keitt hopes that strategy leads to revenue increases that will allow for a larger editorial staff. As at most media organizations, the Blood-Horse staff has been cut significantly in recent years because of declining advertising revenues.
He said the magazine has made two important staff changes lately, appointing Ron Mitchell as sales editor and Eric Mitchell as bloodstock editor.
We’re really refocusing on what’s most important for the industry. I think there’s a growth opportunity there.
John Keitt, Blood-Horse publisher and editorial director
“Those are the two key areas for us, and we haven’t had someone in those roles for awhile,” Keitt said. “We’re really refocusing on what’s most important for the industry. I think there’s a growth opportunity there.”
The first issue of what would become the Blood-Horse was published in Lexington on Aug. 1, 1916. It was called the K.T.H.A. Bulletin and was the organ of the newly created Kentucky Thoroughbred Horse Association, whose president was Hal Price Headley, a future founder of Keeneland. By the second issue, in February 1917, the word “Kentucky” had been dropped as the association assumed a national role.
The association sold the magazine in 1928 to its editor, Tom Cromwell, and it was renamed The Thoroughbred. But concerned that the name was too similar to another publication, The Thoroughbred Record, it was quickly changed to the Blood-Horse.
By the 1960s, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association had acquired the magazine. In addition to Cromwell, other well-known Blood-Horse editors included Kent Hollingworth, Edward L. Bowen and Ray Paulick.
Evan Hammonds, who grew up in Lexington and returned from New York in 1998 to become the Blood-Horse’s managing editor, noted that the industry has experienced quite a roller coaster since the 1980s: tax law changes in 1986 that made horse ownership less attractive; a rebuilding phase in the 1990s; a steep decline during the Great Recession; and a recent strengthening.
There are now fewer breeders and racing dates, smaller foal crops and a big shift to online wagering. But breeding and racing remain strong, and the American Pharoah phenomenon last year has brought new plans and players to the industry.
Blood-Horse magazine’s paid circulation is now 14,100, down from a peak of about 22,000, Hammonds said. The daily report gets 19,300 downloads, and 8,500 have downloaded the smartphone app. Readership of Bloodhorse.com is strong, he said.
“I think we’re in a peculiar niche,” Keitt said. “We’re bringing a lot of stories to industry participants who are passionate about it. That passion of horse racing gives you a viability that some other publications may not have.”