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Keeneland's Ted Bassett

Keeneland's Ted Bassett: My Life

James E. “Ted” Bassett
Bill Mooney
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 440
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    Keeneland's Ted Bassett
    Book Description:

    In the December 30, 1967, edition of the weekly Thoroughbred trade publication, the Blood-Horse, was an announcement that took up one inch of space -- James E. "Ted" Bassett III had been named assistant to the president of the Keeneland Association. It was sandwiched between equally short news items about a handicapping seminar at an East Coast racetrack and a California vacation trip by a horse-owning couple. Bassett's new job, in his own words, "was not earthshaking news." More than four decades later, Ted Bassett is one of the most respected figures within the global Thoroughbred industry. He has served as Keeneland's president, chairman of the board, and trustee, playing a critical role in its ascendency as a premier Thoroughbred track and auction house. Bassett was also president of Breeders' Cup Limited during its greatest period of growth and has been a key architect in the development of the Sport of Kings as we know it today.

    Written in collaboration with two-time Eclipse Award--winning journalist Bill Mooney, Keeneland'sTed Bassett: My Liferecounts Bassett's extraordinary journey, including his days at Kent School and Yale University, through his U.S. Marine Corps service in the Pacific theater during World War II, and as director of the Kentucky State Police during the turbulent 1960s. He helped found the College of Justice & Safety at Eastern Kentucky University, and his continuing service to the Marine Corps has gained him the highest honors accorded to a civilian. During his forty-plus years with Keeneland, Bassett has hobnobbed with hot walkers in the track kitchen, hosted the first visit by Queen Elizabeth II to a United States track, and participated in many of the most important events in the modern history of horse racing.

    With self-effacing humor, characteristic charm, and candor, Bassett describes his association with historic figures such as J. Edgar Hoover and Kentucky governors Albert B. "Happy" Chandler, Edward T. "Ned" Breathitt, and John Y. Brown; and his friendships with racing personalities D. Wayne Lukas, Nick Zito, Ron McAnally, Pat Day, and Joe Hirsch. Bassett shares details about difficult corporate decisions and great racing events that only he can supply, and about the formation of Equibase, the premier data collection agency within the Thoroughbred industry. He tells about his role as an international ambassador for racing, which has made him a highly influential figure on six continents. Bassett often describes his life as a fascinating blur.

    That "blur" and all its unique components are brought into sharp focus in a book that is as wide-ranging as it is personal, filled with a gold mine of firsthand stories and historical details. In addition to highlighting Keeneland's reputation as the jewel of the Thoroughbred industry, Bassett chronicles the business of racing and accomplishments of many prominent people in the horse world, and elsewhere, during the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5990-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Stoker Devonshire

    IT WAS AN honor to be invited to write this foreword as it is about a man who, for as long as I have known him, has been something of a hero.

    I first met Ted Bassett at an early Breeders’ Cup meeting, and we have been friends ever since. I was fortunate, a few years ago, to experience my first Kentucky Derby in the company of Lucy and Ted Bassett and a few of their oldest friends. It was on that occasion that I became aware of Ted’s breadth of acquaintanceship, for wherever we went at Churchill Downs, he...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    James E. “Ted” Bassett III and Keeneland Cottage
  5. Chapter 1 Early Years at Keeneland
    (pp. 1-28)

    I WAS FORTY-SIX years old and out of a job. I was unemployed! One of those crossroads we sometimes reach in life loomed directly in front of me, and what it presented seemed nothing short of a harsh, hazardous dilemma.

    A few weeks earlier, I had resigned as director of the Kentucky State Police. I did this anticipating that the first Republican governor in twenty years would demand a broad-based change in the Democratic appointees. It was an uneasy and uncomfortable time for me, and I welcomed any inquiry regarding my future. And so, on the afternoon of the third...

  6. Chapter 2 Family Background and Kent School
    (pp. 29-43)

    BACK IN 1863, General William Temple “Temp” Withers was in command of the Confederate artillery forces during the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Withers was thirty-eight years old at the time and a hardened veteran. Sixteen years earlier, while leading a charge at the Battle of Buena Vista during the Mexican War, he had been shot through both hips, a circumstance that effected a severe limp and equally severe headaches for the remainder of his life.

    At Vicksburg, the opposing Union forces were led by General Ulysses Simpson Grant. Outnumbered, outgunned, and suffering from a lack of food and medical supplies,...

  7. Chapter 3 Yale and the U.S. Marine Corps
    (pp. 44-69)

    THE DAILY NEWSPAPER my Yale University roommates and I subscribed to was theNew York Herald Tribune,and I remember opening our door at 50 Vanderbilt Hall early Monday morning, December 8, 1941, and immediately seeing that headline in huge type, one of the biggest headlines I have ever seen, “Japs Attack Pearl Harbor.”

    I was totally unaware of the broad implications of what had happened. I did not know where Pearl Harbor was. I really was not even sure what it was. The whole situation seemed something akin to that famous Orson Welles radio broadcast ofWar of the...

  8. Chapter 4 Postwar Experience
    (pp. 70-92)

    FOLLOWING MY HONORABLE discharge from the Marine Corps in 1946, I wanted to attend Harvard University Business School. But my grades at Yale had not been spectacular, and Harvard put me on a waiting list—for a period of undetermined length. Without much else to do, I decided to take a cruise with some friends through the coastal waters of New England. My partners in this adventure were myoid Yale roommates Zandy Harvey and Fred Whitridge and Endicott “Cotty” Davison, who was a former captain of the Yale football team. We rented a thirty-eight-foot schooner named theEmily Morgan.It...

  9. Chapter 5 State Police
    (pp. 93-124)

    WHEN ALBERT BENJAMIN “Happy” Chandler became governor in 1955, he appointed Peter Arrell Widener III as commissioner of the Kentucky State Police. Pete Widener had married Louise Van Meter, one of Lucy’s closest friends since childhood. He was a multimillionaire—his family had deep roots in the powerful financial and social circles of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pete’s father and grandfather had bred and raced champion racehorses for decades, and after purchasing Hialeah Park in south Florida, they had transformed it from a small track that conducted illegal betting into one of the most beautiful and prominent pari-mutuel operations anywhere on the...

  10. Chapter 6 Growth of Keeneland
    (pp. 125-148)

    THROUGH THE YEARS, Keeneland has often been branded as conservative, stodgy, and resistive to change. However, closer observation would reveal that the Keeneland Association is anything but an elephantine organization. Indeed, Keeneland has long been an innovator and views the past as a guidepost rather than a hitching post.

    I will provide a couple of examples. In the fall of 1961, Keeneland was the first Thoroughbred track in North America to use a Visumatic timer, a device that posted both the fractional times of races and the final time, automatically, on the infield tote board. In the spring of 1979,...

  11. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  12. Chapter 7 Queen Elizabeth II
    (pp. 149-167)

    THE IDEA OF inviting Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to visit central Kentucky was born in the mind of David Hedges, who was Keeneland’s representative in England during the 1970s and 1980s. In those days, particularly because so many British horsemen were active at our sales, we felt we had to have a representative over there to advise us on catalog distribution, publicity, and collections.

    David saw the proposed visit as a wonderful way to strengthen the ties between the North American and European segments of our industry. The Royal Family has a long heritage of breeding and racing Thoroughbreds....

  13. Chapter 8 The Blue Grass Stakes
    (pp. 168-195)

    A LOT OF racing people do not realize this, but the Blue Grass Stakes was first run not at Keeneland but at the old Kentucky Association track at Fifth and Race streets in Lexington. The date was May 10, 1911, and the winner was a three-year-old gelding named Governor Gray, who set a track record for one and one-eighth miles of 1:51¹/⁵.

    While Governor Gray’s name is not mentioned with frequency in the annals of the sport, he was a pretty good racehorse. Just three days following his Blue Grass triumph, Governor Gray finished second to Meridian in the Kentucky...

  14. Chapter 9 Lucy
    (pp. 196-215)

    THERE IS NO one else in my life as special as Lucy. She is my jewel. She was raised in Woodford County, amidst the beautiful environment of Lanark Farm, where she developed an innate appreciation of all things beautiful. It was also an environment that allowed her to develop a dignified charm and an intuitive understanding of what is appropriate for an occasion, or not appropriate at all. Decision making has never been a laborious process for Lucy. She simply recognizes what is right and what is wrong and always acts accordingly.

    Lucy is a very private person. She inherited...

  15. Chapter 10 Racing Personalities
    (pp. 216-238)

    THE FIRST TIME I met D. Wayne Lukas was on October 14, 1978. I recall the exact date because it was the day of the Alcibiades Stakes, which was and remains Keeneland’s premier event for two-year-old fillies. Lukas had a filly in the race named Terlingua, who had generated tremendous interest among the racing press and the public because she was the first of Secretariat’s daughters to run in a stakes at our track. Terlingua had been purchased for $275,000 at the Keeneland July sale as a yearling, and she had won four of her first five career starts, all...

  16. Chapter 11 The Breeders’ Cup
    (pp. 239-267)

    ON A MORNING in mid-April 1988, Will Farish came into my office at Keeneland and asked me if I would be willing to become president of Breeders’ Cup Ltd., the organizational body in charge of staging the Breeders’ Cup championship day of races each year. Two years earlier, I had retired as the Keeneland Association’s president and was now serving as Keeneland’s nonsalaried chairman of the board. Farish, among his many other responsibilities, was chairman of the Breeders’ Cup executive committee. His question to me that morning came completely out of the blue. The presidency of the Breeders’ Cup was...

  17. Chapter 12 Trips as an Ambassador for Racing
    (pp. 268-289)

    IN EARLY 1986, Lucy and I were members of a group invited by Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, to visit his country. The invitees, all from central Kentucky, further included Governor Martha Layne Collins; Otis Singletary, president of the University of Kentucky; Charles Shearer, president of Transylvania University; Gordon Duke, the state’s finance secretary; and several of the region’s business leaders and prominent horse breeders.

    The weeklong journey began on February 9. A trio of Lear jets took us from Lexington to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.A fourth Lear jet was used to carry...

  18. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  19. Chapter 13 The Ever-Evolving Economics of Racing
    (pp. 290-313)

    FROM A BUSINESS standpoint, one of the most important dates in North American racing history is March 15, 1990. On that day, a decision was made to go ahead full steam with the formation of the Equibase Company. From that point onward, the Thoroughbred racing industry itself was going to take control of the past-performance data from races, which is so vital to pari-mutuel wagering. In doing so, the sport was challenging a monopoly that had existed for almost 100 years—theDaily Racing Form.Since its first issue, which was published on November 17, 1894, theRacing Formhad...

  20. Chapter 14 Special People and Special Projects
    (pp. 314-337)

    DURING A TRIP to Santa Anita in the winter of 1980, Lucy and I were invited to a Valentine’s Day party at the home of Muriel and Maxwell Gluck in Beverly Hills. It was a costume party, Muriel said. Guests were to come in the guises of the people they most admired. We were very reluctant to accept—neither Lucy nor I was comfortable with the costume idea. But Muriel was insistent, to the point where she mandated our attendance. “Come dressed as you are,” she told us. Which is what we did.

    Upon arriving, we found the main room...

  21. Chapter 15 Retirement—I Don’t Have Time for That
    (pp. 338-361)

    WHILE YOUTH MIGHT be largely a frame of mind, one cannot hold back the dock or the calendar. As time passes and the twilight years approach, we develop a kinship with the metallic man—as we gain silver in the hair, gold in the mouth, and an increasing amount of lead in the posterior.

    Back in 1986, the expected age of retirement within our society was still pretty much thought of as sixty-five. And at sixty-five, I had made up my mind to retire as Keeneland’s president. My decision was made during a long, solitary walk on a beach in...

  22. A Final Personal Note
    (pp. 362-363)
  23. Chapter Notes: Sources, Afterthoughts, and Observations
    (pp. 364-374)
  24. Index
    (pp. 375-407)