Keeneland offers buyouts to employees

Keeneland Association, the 74-year-old Lexington racetrack and Thoroughbred auction house, has offered buyouts to an undisclosed number of longtime employees.

"This is largely a result of the global economic recession that started in September 2008," said Jay Blanton, Keeneland spokesman.

Keeneland President Nick Nicholson could not be reached for comment.

The track did not say how many jobs will be eliminated, how many employees will be affected or how much money the track could save.

Many of the buyout offers have been made over the past few months to full-time employees in maintenance and security. The employees have until the end of August to accept.

Maintenance and security are the track's largest departments with a "fair number" of employees nearing retirement, Blanton said.

He would not address whether layoffs will be necessary if not enough employees take the buyout.

"That's not something we're at the point of discussing. This isn't the only measure we're looking at," Blanton said. "We're not at that juncture yet."

He said that, like most global industries, the track's entire business had been hurt by the recession but that the decline in Thoroughbred sales had been the biggest factor.

"People like to think of us as a racetrack, and we are, but the vast majority of our business is sales," Blanton said.

Keeneland holds two popular three-week race meets a year, in the spring and fall, and holds the world's largest auction of Thoroughbred yearlings in September and the world's largest auction of Thoroughbred breeding stock in November.

That business has been hit hard by the economic downturn. Keeneland's sales receipts were down by almost 34 percent in 2009, falling by more than $200 million from 2008.

Compared with 2007, when the auction house had a record $815.4 million in sales, 2009's receipts were more than cut in half to $396.2 million.

The worldwide downturn hit in 2008, a month after Keeneland announced plans for a major renovation and expansion.

Those plans have been on hold, but, Blanton said, the company is still considering long-term changes.

"You will see us making some strategic investments," Blanton said, as the company seeks to maximize revenue as well as cut costs. "This is still a very healthy company."