Shannon Bishop Arvin has been tabbed to replace Bill Thomason when he retires as Keeneland's President and CEO at the end of 2020, the racing and sales company announced Thursday morning.
Arvin, a partner at the Lexington law firm Stoll Keenon Ogden (SKO), has served as corporate counsel to Keeneland since 2008 and as Secretary and Advisory Member of Keeneland's Board of Directors since 2015. She will serve as the incoming President-elect beginning Sept. 1 and will officially transition to President and CEO on Jan. 1, 2021. She becomes Keeneland's eighth President and the first woman in that position, joining Belinda Stronach (Santa Anita, Golden Gate, Gulfstream and the Maryland Jockey Club) and Stella Thayer (Tampa Bay Downs) as women currently serving as the head of a North American racetrack.
Thomason retires after a decade with Keeneland, including eight years in the top spot.
“I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to serve as President and CEO of Keeneland,” Arvin said. “I am also thankful for my experience at Stoll Keenon Ogden these past 18 years. I appreciate the trust and confidence placed in me by my clients and my law partners, and I look forward to continuing to work with them in a different capacity.
A Lexington native, Arvin has deep ties to the Central Kentucky community and the horse industry. She graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, with a B.A. in Political Science, International Studies, with High Honors, and from the University of Kentucky College of Law in 2002.
Arvin brings to her new role a unique perspective of Keeneland's rich history and what the iconic track means to horsemen, fans and Central Kentucky. Her grandfather W.T. “Bish” Bishop was the first General Manager of Keeneland when the track opened in 1936. Her father, the late William T. “Buddy” Bishop III, grew up at Keeneland, living in an apartment next to the clubhouse. Buddy Bishop's lifelong service to Keeneland included positions as Director, Secretary, Trustee and Counsel. He was also a partner at SKO and worked with his daughter at the firm until his passing in 2008.
“I have a deep love and passion for Keeneland and it is a tremendous honor to lead this organization and work alongside this amazing team,” she said. “By building on the foundation laid by Bill Thomason and those who came before him, and with a continued focus on integrity, innovation and safety, we will further the mission of Keeneland and ensure the future of this sport.”
At her law firm's Lexington office, where she has practiced since 2002, Arvin has represented Thoroughbred owners and prominent industry organizations in Kentucky and around the world, among them Keeneland, Breeders' Cup Ltd., Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. She also serves on the University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Foundation Board of Directors and is a member of The Jockey Club. She also currently serves as Secretary of Horse Country, Director of Kentucky Bank and Director of The Lexington School; is Chair and Director of Bluegrass Care Navigators (formerly Hospice of the Bluegrass) and is Past President of the Thoroughbred Club of America.
“I have had the honor of working with Shannon for many years, and her expertise and knowledge of the Thoroughbred industry and her impressive leadership abilities make her a great choice for Keeneland,” Breeders' Cup President and CEO Drew Fleming said. “Breeders' Cup has a long-standing bond with Keeneland, and we look forward to working with Shannon, Bill and their entire team to not only make the Breeders' Cup World Championships a resounding success in 2020 but also to innovate and grow our sport going forward. Today's announcement is a major win for the future of racing.”
“Shannon is all-in for Keeneland and for Lexington; she has a tremendous knowledge of and love for the community,” Juddmonte Farms General Manager Garrett O'Rourke said. “In my early days at Juddmonte, I worked very closely with her dad, who I loved. She and her dad are very much alike, both wise and smart, and that is the biggest compliment I could give her. But more than anything else, her history and her roots in Keeneland are what make it the absolute glove fit. It couldn't be a more obvious or perfect choice, and I am delighted for her and for Keeneland.”
The appointment of Arvin was a unanimous decision by the Keeneland Trustees.
“Bill notified us last year of his wish to spend more time with his family and his plans for retirement,” Keeneland Trustee Seth Hancock said. “We are grateful to have had ample time to thoughtfully select his successor. We have all known Shannon for years through her service to Keeneland and numerous boards in the racing industry. We approached her to see if there was an interest on her part, and I am happy to say there was. Our wide-ranging discussions with her that followed confirmed our initial judgement: Shannon's leadership, professionalism, the respect she has earned within the horse industry, her intimate knowledge of Keeneland's core businesses and her vision for Keeneland's future made her the clear choice to become the next president.”
Thomason retires after a busy 10 years at the company.
Under his leadership, Keeneland hosted the Breeders' Cup for the first time in 2015, which generated a nearly $70 million economic impact for Lexington. He negotiated the event's return to Keeneland in 2020. He also led Keeneland to become a founding member of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition. Thomason was integral in initiating the hiring of an Equine Safety Director at Keeneland and championed racing and sales medication reforms, among other industry initiatives. He has served as chairman of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, a member of The Jockey Club, on the board of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Foundation and University of Kentucky Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory Advisory Board.
“It has been the honor of a lifetime to be part of the Keeneland family,” Thomason said. “I feel privileged to work alongside people who share a commitment to always put the best interest of the horse first and to exceed our customer's expectations. Keeneland was founded upon these principles, which continue to guide our operations to this day. Shannon's life and work experiences intertwine with that philosophy, and I look forward to her leadership of Keeneland for years to come.”
Keeneland's outreach during Thomason's tenure expanded beyond traditional business lines, most significantly with the track's historic partnerships with Red Mile and Churchill Downs on historical gaming and simulcasting facilities. Keeneland Hospitality was developed to elevate the on-site culinary experience for patrons and to deliver top-class special events. Retail operations branched out to include online sales, a remodel of The Keeneland Shop and the opening of Keeneland Mercantile to establish a presence for Thoroughbred racing in downtown Lexington. Customer service was also a focus of Thomason's, and programs included construction of a Welcome Center, creation of a Keeneland Tour Program and participation in the formation of the popular Horse Country.
During this period, Keeneland also was named among the best places to work by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the Kentucky Society for Human Resource Management.