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Owner of Kentucky’s oldest horse farm: Thoroughbred racing must focus more on fan experience

Runnymede Kentucky’s oldest horse farmRunnymede Farm, whose owners say it is Kentucky’s oldest continuously operated Thoroughbred breeding operation, is preparing for its 150th anniversary. But before he talks about history, Brutus J. Clay III wants to show off pictures of recently successful mares. “We talk about the past a lot here,” said Clay, whose great-grandfather started Runnymede in 1867. “So I don’t want you to have to ask, ‘So what have you done lately?’”
 
Clay has been doing a lot lately. Since becoming president of the farm owned by him and his seven siblings in 2009, he has added broodmares, bred and raced some winners and overseen a renovation of facilities to board mares for clients. At any given time, the farm’s 365 acres has 75 to 125 horses, including retirees.
 
He also is one of the organizers of Horse Country, a non-profit consortium of 36 Central Kentucky farms and equine organizations trying to increase equine tourism as a vehicle for attracting a much-needed new fan base to Thoroughbred racing.
 
“You can’t live on the laurels of your ancestors forever,” Clay said. “Businesses don’t grow as fast as families do, and if you’re Catholic it’s triply so.”
 
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Clay and his wife, Sarah, hope to pass Runnymede on to their children: Brutus, 15; Catesby, 13; and Caroline, 11. To do that, the farm must be a sustainable business in a sustainable industry.
 
To achieve that, Clay thinks Thoroughbred racing must focus less on gambling and more on the fan experience, as other sports do. Many racetracks are nothing like Keeneland.
 
“When we start focusing on the gambling we lose, because there are more efficient ways to gamble,” said Clay, who thinks racing should be more like Major League Baseball. “The whole business model is people paying for the privilege of being entertained by just being there. You go for the experience.”
 
The Horse Country initiative is all about the experience: farm owners opening their gates to share their passion with fans — and potential fans.
 
“People are fans of teams,” he said. “When we refer to Kentucky, we say that’s my team. But you don’t actually own the team. So why can’t we make people fans of the farms by touching them emotionally through sharing our passion, which is truly authentic? I think there’s a lot of opportunity for us to connect with people.
 

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