Keeneland President and CEO Nick Nicholson today announced that effective September 1, 2012, he will retire from Keeneland Association after nearly thirteen years at the helm. Bill Thomason, currently Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, has been selected by the Keeneland Trustees as successor to Nicholson.
Despite multiple industry downturns as a result of two global recessions and the outbreak of Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome, Keeneland has nonetheless experienced record sales numbers during Nicholson’s tenure. During that time, Keeneland also set numerous attendance and wagering records for its race meetings, including an all-time record of 250,163 attendees during its 75th Anniversary meet in October 2011, and most recently an all-time record 40,617 attendees for the 2012 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1).
“Keeneland is a tradition and an entity like no other,” said Keeneland Trustee Louis Lee Haggin, III. “We understand and respect why Nick made his decision, but his daily presence and vision will be missed. Through this process, we have examined leaders inside and outside of the industry and unquestionably have found the right person to lead Keeneland and provide the necessary continuity. We are confident that the momentum Nick has created will continue with Bill and the current leadership team for many years to come.”
“It has been an honor to serve the community and the industry as President of Keeneland. I have enjoyed every single day of it and have just as much passion for the future of our sport as I did on my first day at Keeneland,” Nicholson said.
“While I will miss the daily interaction with the fans and the Keeneland family, I am thrilled with the selection of Bill Thomason. Bill has incomparable experience in both the financial and equine sectors. He is knowledgeable in both the racing and sales aspects of our business and knows all that is involved in bringing a consignment to the Keeneland sales. In my opinion, he is uniquely poised to lead Keeneland during this vitally important time for Thoroughbred racing.”
Nicholson will remain in an advisory role with Keeneland and continue to work with the racing and sales company on domestic and international relationships.
Thomason will officially start in his new role September 1 and will be Keeneland’s seventh President. Thomason has been a part of the Keeneland leadership team since June 2010 and previously served the industry for 28 years as Financial and Administrative Manager at Mill Ridge Farm.
“At Mill Ridge, I had the honor of working for Alice Headley Chandler, daughter of Keeneland founder Hal Price Headley. Through her I gained an appreciation and love of Keeneland and the Thoroughbred business that could only be taught by someone with her passion for the horse and for her beloved Keeneland,” Thomason said.
“I am truly humbled by this and appreciate the Trustees’ confidence in the direction that Keeneland Association is heading. Under Nick’s guidance Keeneland has maintained the finest traditions of Thoroughbred racing, as its mission demands, while leading the way in finding solutions to complex industry problems. It is an honor to be part of this special place that represents what is best about Thoroughbred racing.”
Thomason graduated from the University of Kentucky with a B.S. in Accounting in 1977 and a Masters in Business Administration in 1978. He worked for two years at the accounting firm of Alexander Grant & Co. before joining Mill Ridge Farm.
Thomason is a current board member on the newly created Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and he formerly served as the assistant treasurer for the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association/Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders and was a member of the audit committee of the Breeders’ Cup. Thomason has also previously served as treasurer of the Thoroughbred Club of America.
An active community leader, Thomason was chairman of the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce (now Commerce Lexington), chairman of the Lexington Arts and Cultural Council, chairman of the Board of First United Methodist Church and a member of the executive committee of Bluegrass Tomorrow. He also has served on the Boards of the Volunteer Center of the Bluegrass, the Greenspace Commission and the Lexington Philharmonic.
Bill and his wife, Barbara, have three daughters, Marcie (1980-2006) who was a graduate of the University of Virginia and was a CPA in Washington DC; Melissa (Chambless) who is a graduate of the University of Virginia in Systems Engineering working at The Home Depot Headquarters in Atlanta, GA; and Laura who is a graduate of the University of Virginia in Neuroscience now at the Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta, GA.