Elliston bringing global experience to Keeneland racing, sales team

Before joining Breeders’ Cup, Bob Elliston was CEO at Turfway Park in Florence. Here he is at the track in 2005.
Before joining Breeders’ Cup, Bob Elliston was CEO at Turfway Park in Florence. Here he is at the track in 2005.

On Tuesday, Keeneland announced that Bob Elliston, executive vice president & COO of Breeders’ Cup Limited since 2012, would be joining the racetrack and sales company in the new position of vice president of racing and sales, effective Aug. 29.

The Herald-Leader caught up with Elliston for a quick question-and-answer session on what was the catalyst behind his decision to take on a new role and what he hopes to bring one of the most storied tracks in the country.

Q: What sparked this for you to make the move from Breeders’ Cup to Keeneland?

A: “Honestly, there are very, very few places that would entice me to leave the incredible opportunity and place I’ve had here. What a vantage point it’s been for the last four and a half 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.”

Q: As the former president of Turfway Park, your background in racing speaks for itself. What exactly will be involved with your role on the Keeneland sales team?

A: “The core function of why Keeneland exists and why it was created in the very beginning was to offer the very best in racing and the very best in sales. (Keeneland president) Bill Thomason and his team have aligned those core functions and I’m going to go there working with great teams on both. People like (director of sales) Geoffrey (Russell), (associate director of sales) Tom (Thornbury) and (associate director of sales development) Mark Maronde on sales side. And then on the racing side, we have one of the best racing secretaries in the country in Ben Huffman so as we align those products, our hope is that through that alignment we serve both customers even better. Because, quite frankly, they buy the horses in the sales ring, they lead them back over for the 2-year-old races in April and the graded stakes in the first weekend of October and throughout the year and then they retire as some of the best mares and bloodstock in November. So as we think about kind of the continuous circle, it is this alignment that I think will serve them all better.”

Q: With Breeders’ Cup you obviously had experience with racing and people on a global scale. What from that experience can you pull from and apply to what you’re going to be doing at Keeneland?

A: “Perhaps no place other than at the Breeders’ Cup and perhaps the Keeneland sales grounds do American racing and American sales connect with the world. There are spots of it. I traveled to Japan in support of the Breeders’ Cup in partnership with colleagues like Rogers Beasley when he was at Keeneland, talking with Japanese breeders about the importance of not only selling and buying in the sales ring but racing with us back with us at the Breeders’ Cup. Now, we can count up to 4-5 horses from Japan that are being pointed to this year’s Breeders’ Cup. I think about the relationships that I’ve created and benefited from in Europe from Ireland to the U.K. to France and those are some of those prominent international buyers at the Keeneland sales. All you have to do is open up the Racing Post and see those Keeneland grads that are poised to run in the graded stakes at Goodwood today and tomorrow. Only here at the Breeders’ Cup could I have gained the experiences on an international level to properly represent the global importance that is the Keeneland sales.”

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