Keeneland President and CEO talks new role as fans welcome return of spring meet

John Velazquez, Authentic
Posted at 5:56 PM, Apr 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-02 17:56:24-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — It's always a special time in Lexington... the start of the Keeneland Spring Meet. And this opening day is extra special because the track is welcoming back fans for the first time since the fall of 2019.

Shannon Arvin was named President and CEO of Keeneland back in July. She officially took over as president on January 1st. Thankfully, this spring at Keeneland is a stark contrast to this same time last year.

While many of the best traditions remain, as Arvin told us, innovation is necessary inevitable.

It was a remarkably tough decision to cancel the spring meet in 2020. A quick summer meet took place instead, and then the fall meet, but in general, no fans were allowed. But now, there's a sign that better days are coming.

"We are so excited to have a spring race meet again," said Arvin.

A limited number of tickets for spectators were sold in advance, and demand was through the roof.

While race fans are getting back to the track, a year of change and innovation was happening while they were away.

Arvin says a primary focus of theirs was to still host the sales.

"For the sales, it was important to Keeneland and important to the industry that we could continue to provide that continuity to the marketplace."

Despite challenges, Arvin says they found opportunity.

"It's really kind of made us step back and rethink how we do things," she says. "It's expedited some projects that we already had underway. for example, with our horse sales, we now have online bidding, which we've been thinking about for quite a while, but we expedited everything to make sure it was available for our sales starting in the fall."

A new way of doing things. And speaking of new, Arvin took over as president of Keeneland on the first of this year.

"I'm a lawyer by trade. I've practiced law for 18 years with still, Keenon & Ogden, which has been Keeneland's law firm since 1935. how's that for a long-standing relationship?"

She's worked closely with Keeneland in all aspects of their business.

"And that helped me get a really good look inside, under the tent of Keeneland, to know what's important to this institution," said Arvin.

In her role now, she feels tremendous pride to continue what's withstood almost a century.

"We've had the same mission since 1935, which is to be a model race track and an internationally leading sales company. and so much of what we focus on, as you know, is our community and the integrity of our community," she said.

Steeped in tradition, Keeneland is a rare find, unlike any other track, you'll visit.

Arvin says there is room for growth and change, something she'll continue to cultivate, whether in a pandemic year or not.

"The best of our traditions will continue, but we have to take the best of our traditions and continue to innovate, putting horses and people first."

Always falling back on their commitment to the sport and the community.

While Shannon Arvin has been connected professionally to Keeneland for a couple of decades, she also has personal connections going way back.

Her grandfather was the first general manager here, from 1935 until 1971. Her father also was an attorney for Keeneland and a Keeneland trustee.