Keeneland names Elliston vice president of racing, sales

Bob Elliston, who had been chief operating officer for the Breeders’ Cup, takes over as Keeneland’s vice president of racing and sales.
Bob Elliston, who had been chief operating officer for the Breeders’ Cup, takes over as Keeneland’s vice president of racing and sales.

Bob Elliston has been an influential presence in Thoroughbred racing for years, first running Turfway Park, then joining up with Breeders’ Cup Limited.

When a new opportunity came calling, Elliston could not say no.

Keeneland announced Tuesday that Elliston, executive vice president and COO of Breeders’ Cup Limited since 2012, will join the historic racetrack and sales company in the new position of vice president of racing and sales, effective Aug. 29.

“Honestly, there are very, very few places that would entice me to leave the incredible opportunity and place I’ve had here,.” Elliston told the Herald-Leader. “What a vantage point it’s been for the last 4  1/2 years to see the very best racing in the world. But Keeneland is where I cut my teeth. That is where I really became passionate about the sport when I was 17-18 years old and to be able to join that great team, to be overseeing a team that puts on the very best sales in the world for Thoroughbred racehorses and two race meets that are spectacular, and to be part of something that means so much to this community is really an honor for me. It was hard to turn down when they came asking.”

Keeneland’s racing and sales business lines will be consolidated under Elliston as he will oversee those departments that provide support for racing and sales, including broadcast services, communications, marketing and sponsorship.

“As we celebrate our 80th year, it is fitting that we add someone of Bob’s caliber to the Keeneland family,” Keeneland president and CEO Bill Thomason said in a news release. “His extensive experience in the industry will be a tremendous asset as we continue to fulfill our mission of providing racing at the highest level while building upon our momentum as the world’s largest and most successful Thoroughbred auction company.”

Longtime Keeneland executive Rogers Beasley retired as vice president of racing at the track on June 30. Beasley had been with Keeneland for 34 years and had previously served as director of sales.

Elliston came to Breeders’ Cup from Turfway Park where he served as president and CEO of the Florence track for 13 years. In his role with the Breeders’ Cup, Elliston worked closely with Keeneland staff and its horsemen particularly during the multiyear planning and execution process that led to Keeneland hosting the two-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships for the first time last October.

“I have worked for 17 years in the Thoroughbred horse industry, and the last four years at the Breeders’ Cup were an extraordinary privilege. None of it would have been possible, however, if not for the formative experiences I had on the grounds of Keeneland Race Course, first attending the races in college, then walking the fields where great race mares such as Princess Rooney and Gana Facil were producing beautiful foals,” Elliston said in the news release. “Today, I am humbled and excited to be part of this special place and work alongside such a tremendous team of professionals.”

An avid horse racing enthusiast his entire adult life, Elliston serves on the board of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, and has earned the Kentucky HBPA’s Man of the Year distinction and the Kentucky Harness Horsemen’s Presidential Award for distinguished service. Previously, he was executive chairman of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association board of directors and treasurer of the Kentucky Equine Education Project board.

Elliston also is active within the Central Kentucky community, recently being appointed to the boards of the Lexington Center Corporation and LexArts.

Bob and his wife, Sharon, an attorney, along with their two daughters, Abby and Haley, reside in Lexington.

Craig Fravel, president and CEO of Breeders’ Cup Limited, wished Elliston well.

“It became even clearer last fall how important both the Breeders’ Cup and Keeneland are to Thoroughbred racing and how we share the same values and goals for our game,” Fravel said. “I look forward to working with Bob as he returns to his roots at Keeneland and wish him and our other friends at Keeneland the very best.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: 859-231-1676, @horseracinghl

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader