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From left, Rogers Beasley, Geoffrey Russell, Chauncey Morris, andThomasThornbury
b e t ro t te r s
Keeneland Team Travels the World
in Search of Buyers

By Jennifer Haas | Photos by Lee P. Thomas

he Keeneland sales, which have produced record-
­shattering prices and sales graduates that have gone on
to win prestigious races all over the world, have not been
successful just by happenstance. Behind the scenes is a
dedicated sales team that travels near and far to pro-
mote Keeneland and share their passion for the Thoroughbred.
In addition to the United States, 64 other countries conduct
horse racing in some form or fashion. Led by Keeneland’s direc-
tor of sales, Geoffrey Russell, the Keeneland sales force travels to
many of these countries on a regular basis to encourage potential
buyers to come to the sales and races. Russell is joined on his
globetrotting journeys by Chauncey Morris, sales marketing asso-
ciate, Thomas Thornbury, associate director of sales, and Rogers
Beasley, director of racing. In addition, Tim Preston, based in New-
market, England, serves as Keeneland’s European representative
while bloodstock agent Vin Cox serves as the Keeneland liaison in
Australia and Asia.
Keeneland races just 30 days a year and conducts approximate-
ly 35 days of sales, but there is little down time for the team as
each member works to broaden the market for Keeneland con-
signors. In a year, the four men combine for 30 to 40 trips abroad,
rack up countless sky miles, and in some months spend more
nights in hotels than at home.


Glo b e t ro t te r s
“We are very blessed that Keeneland has a wonderful brand
world wide.” — Rogers Beasley
Each man has carved research before the group decides where they will go.
his own niche as he travels Morris explains that they are often invited to these countries
to find new buyers, build because of the long-standing belief that the best and fastest horses
relationships with current in the world come from Central Kentucky and the place to buy
clients, and promote one of them is Keeneland.
Keeneland’s core missions
— to improve Thoroughbred Common Language of the Horse
racing around the world. Beasley, Russell, Morris, and Thornbury acknowledge horsemen
Beasley concentrates on Ja- everywhere share a common language that helps break down
pan, Hong Kong, India, and communication barriers.
the Persian Gulf states of “Everyone in the horse business speaks the language of the
Qatar, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, horse,” said Morris. “Pedigrees are known to everyone regardless if
and Dubai; Russell spends they are written in Japanese or Mandarin. English is also the lan-
time in Australia, South Afri- guage of business, so it’s not too complicated. Having said that,
ca, Panama, the Philippines, there are always interpreters around.
and the Gulf States as well “Sometimes people are surprised we take the time to learn the
as the legacy markets of Ire- ‘hi, how are you doing’ gestures or an appropriate toast, but it’s
land, England, and France; just good manners. Our clients do the same thing when they come
Morris, who is fluent in Spanish, is a frequent visitor to South here, so if they are going to make an incredible effort, so are we.”
American countries, but also travels to Korea, India, and Turkey; All four men say they are often struck by how great the passion
and Thornbury concentrates on Latin America and South America, for horse racing is in the countries they visit and how they almost
mainly Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Panama, and Mexico. always walk away having learned something new or seen some-
thing amazing, including coal fields adjacent to breeding farms in
Building on a Tradition Australia, a racetrack in India where Winston Churchill ran horses
Keeneland’s concentrated efforts to travel abroad have intensi- as a young officer in 1896, and prominent horse farms built on
fied since Morris, a former employee of the Kentucky Department hillsides in Japan. Russell says one of his favorite places is Sydney,
of Agriculture, started working for the organization in 1999, but the Australia, because “even the cab drivers are excited to talk about
concept is not a new one. Keeneland has maintained a European racing.”
office, which focuses on England, Ireland, and France, since the Once a connection has been made and a relationship developed,
mid-1970s and Beasley has regularly visited Japan since the 1990s, the sales team will maintain that relationship, not ignore it in pur-
dropping in on training centers and going farm to farm to hand out suit of new business. “On the first trip we get a handshake,” said
sales catalogs. Thornbury. “On the second trip we get a hug, and on the third trip
“We are very blessed that Keeneland has a wonderful brand we are invited to their house for dinner. That’s what I like so much
world wide, and that opens a lot of doors for us,” Beasley said.
“We’ve been able to go in and build the relationships. It’s an educa-
tion process.”
Beasley, Russell, and Thornbury are all quick to give a lot of the
credit for the travel program’s success to Morris, who is responsible
for seeking out emerging markets and performing the necessary

“On our first trip we get a handshake. On the

second trip we get a hug and on the third trip
we are invited to their house for dinner.”
— Tom Thornbury


“The horsemen are so pleased when we
about making these make the effort to come to them.”
trips and getting to
— Geoffrey Russell
know the people.”
“The horsemen later syndicated as a stallion for a record $60 million.
are so pleased when More recently, the 2008 Keeneland April 2-year-old in training
we make the effort to sales topper was purchased by Mammed Mirza Huseynov of Azer-
come to them,” said baijan for $800,000. Huseynov first came on the Keeneland radar
Russell. “They like it screen in 2004 when Morris heard he was building a racetrack in
when we show up on Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Morris and Beasley traveled to Baku
their doorsteps because they enjoy showing us their horses. It’s not to visit Huseynov in 2004, and later that year he made his first trip
uncommon to visit a place and see a barn that looks like a Calumet to Keeneland to attend the October race meet. Two years later he
or Lane’s End barn because they have come to Lexington and really bought the April sales topper and a farm in Central Kentucky while
liked what they saw.” actively buying at the Keeneland November sale.
In Latin America and South America, Morris and Thornbury
Success Stories have had success overcoming the misconception that Keeneland
Within weeks or months of an initial overture by a team mem- sales horses are too expensive for the buyers in these countries. In
ber, a prospective buyer might visit Keeneland, but most relation- Mexico for example, the purse structure for racing in not nearly as
ships take several years to yield results. However, the payoff of all lucrative as in the United States, Europe, or Dubai, but there is still
the travel cannot be denied. In 2008 buyers from 48 different coun- a great love for the sport, and strong egos make owners want to
tries purchased horses at the sales. Of the total money spent by own the best horses. The sales team has noticed over the last few
years that buyers from Mexico and South American countries are
coming to Keeneland earlier for the two-week, marathon Septem-
ber and November sales and increasing their spending levels.
“The large, headline-making prices do scare some potential buy-
ers away, but once they come, they develop a comfort level,” said
Beasley. “Keeneland is still Tiffany and Cartier, but also offers hors-
es at any price that can be competitive at any level.”
In addition to finding new buyers, the Keeneland team has been
successful in helping countries improve their racing and breeding
programs through seminars and development of their own sales.
For example, when Thornbury first helped a Brazilian breeders’
association conduct a select yearling sale in 2008, the group had
250 horses to offer. This year there were 450 yearlings. While this
work is part of the Keeneland mission to improve racing, there is
the added benefit that buyers from these countries will eventually
look to improve their stock and turn to Keeneland to help them
“Everyone in the horse business speaks the do that.
The most popular Keeneland sales for foreign buyers remain
language of the horse.” — Chauncey Morris
the November breeding stock sale and the September yearling sale.
Morris has dubbed these sales the “United Nations of Thorough-
foreign buyers in 2008, 64 percent came from emerging markets, bred racing” and it doesn’t take long for even the most casual ob-
which include the new targets of Korea, Philippines, Turkey, Russia, server to figure out why. Signage is written in Spanish and Japanese
South Africa, and South America. and a multitude of languages can be heard throughout the Keene­
The door-to-door, personal introduction to the Japanese owners land sales pavilion. These spill over to the hotels and restaurants
and breeders paid off big time for Beasley and Keeneland when of Lexington.
Fusao Sekiguchi came to the 1998 July select yearling sale and pur- The sales demonstrate that the world comes to Keeneland but
chased a Mr. Prospector yearling for $4 million. The colt, named a look at the travel logs of Beasley, Russell, Thornbury, and Morris
Fusaichi Pegasus, went on to win the 2000 Kentucky Derby and was leave no doubt that this team takes Keeneland to the world. K