Keeneland Race Course President and CEO Nick Nicholson took a few minutes last week to talk with the Herald-Leader with the track's Fall Meet scheduled to open on Friday. Following are some excerpts from the interview:
Question: How challenging has it been for Keeneland to maintain its mission during some of the more trying economic times we've been dealing with?
Answer: "You're right, it's easier to do when everything is going great. It's harder to do in a time of recession like we've had. The only thing you can do is you have to start when you're doing your planning and budgeting. Have to start with what comes first. And what has to come first here is doing what is best for the horse and doing what is best for the industry. And those two thoughts almost always overlap and then you have just have to make it work around that principle so the budget is tougher. There are fewer people working here than there were two years ago. So the people that are here have all had to work harder and that's not to say that Keeneland is unique. The same thing is true with most other businesses in the country as well. But you have to do what you have to do as a business."
Q: Have there been things you would have liked to see Keeneland move forward with that have had to go by the wayside?
A: "Yes there are. We'd like to be more aggressive with our racing program than we've been able to be. The purse program in many ways has sort of been on hold for two years. We have not done as much in the way of construction the last two years as I would have liked and that's just the reality and part of the example of having to figure out your core values and do what you can under these circumstances. The Keeneland meets have grown, the attendance is doing very well. And we want to continue to do things to make it pleasurable for people to have a good experience when they come out here. That is sort of the ball you have to keep your eye on."
Q: In addition to the Autumn at Keeneland programming on Versus and NBC, Keeneland recently forged an agreement with TVG to have them televise racing there in HD exclusively through 2016. How important is it for the sport to maintain not just a national presence, but a high quality national TV presence for the sport to keep making strides?
A: "I think it's one of the cornerstones of any modern sport. You have to have quality television and both those words are important. You have to be on television and you have to be on in a way that is presented in a manner that is comparable to what the sports fans see in other sports, and our entertainment value on TV has to be just as good as football or basketball and it should be and it can be. Certainly I'm very proud of the way Keeneland looks on TV. It's a beautiful setting and we want to take every opportunity to highlight Central Kentucky, and I think when Keeneland is on national television, it's good for Central Kentucky as well as the Thoroughbred industry."