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  • Nate Morris

The Next Green Sport: Thoroughbred Racing 

Sports are evolving. A new generation of fans and spectators is demanding more accountable, more sustainable practices from the sports and the venues they support. Because thoroughbred racing is a global sport, with a significant footprint overseas, where guests are demanding an even greater environmental accountability, Keeneland has an opportunity to be a world leader on this issue, and we are helping them do that. Keeneland, the Lexington, Kentucky-based and internationally renowned racecourse and the thoroughbred industry’s leading auction house, represents the pride of all Kentuckians in "the sport of kings" and what it means to our economy and all facets of Kentucky life, and gives our commonwealth identity. Keeneland chose Rubicon to be a ground-breaking sustainability partner that will manage all aspects of its waste and recycling. With one eye on its legacy in the thoroughbred industry, and another on the demands of future fans of the sport, Keeneland is taking a leadership position in the racing industry with its reduced waste to landfill effort, which is the latest addition to the track’s established record of innovation. The race is on in the thoroughbred industry for others to embrace this environmental objective. To understand what a great day this is for me, you have to understand a little bit about what thoroughbred racing means to all Kentuckians. In Kentucky, horses are a $4 billion-plus industry, the largest agricultural industry in the state. And another $10 million or more are generated by tourism related to horses. About 100,000 people are employed in the equine industry, including racing and breeding, making it one of the state’s leading employers. I grew up learning about the thoroughbred industry and all that it means to Kentuckians.  In Kentucky, horse racing and breeding bridge all class and economic barriers, and not only because of the economics. The equine industry is the pride of our state. Living in Kentucky, we feel a deep connection to the industry in everything we do. It is our state industry. It is our state pastime, and one we get to share with the world at our prestigious racetracks and events.  Keeneland is the racetrack in my hometown of Lexington, and is arguably the most prestigious thoroughbred racetrack in America. Rated #1 out of the top 10 tracks by the Horseplayers Association of North America, Keeneland — a non-profit organization — has been in operation since 1936. Keeneland hosts four sales annually — in January, April, September, and November — and hosts stakes races both in April and October. Its April races lead up to the Kentucky Derby, and include the Blue Grass Stakes, a Derby prep race. Keeneland has hosted the Breeders' Cup twice, in 2015 and 2020, and will host the annual world championship event again in 2022. Keeneland represents the legacy of the thoroughbred industry. In 1984, the track built a track-side winner’s circle in time for a visit from England’s Queen Elizabeth II, and founded the first-ever Queen’s Race, an annual race that runs to this day. If you have seen Netflix's The Crown, you have seen how important horse breeding is to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and the annual Queen's Race at Keeneland honors England's cherished sovereign while celebrating all that makes horse racing special to modern Kentucky. This makes it all the more exciting that Keeneland has decided to go green with Rubicon, the company I founded right here in Lexington. Together, we will advance the companies’ shared goal of ending waste, beginning with a track-wide evaluation of current operations and the design and implementation of a full-service, sustainable waste management program. Our partnership will expand to incorporate a mixed recycling program, recommendations for the replacement of upstream material types such as polystyrene cups and other non-reusable items, the creation of a food scrap diversion program, and the development of removal and recycling solutions for e-waste, tires, and other hard-to-recycle materials.  This strategic partnership represents the thoroughbred industry getting ahead of the waste debate, and doing it in a free market way. It is a whole new sector of the economy adopting free market solutions to waste and making a positive change for the environment in the process. By reducing the amount of waste it sends to landfill, Keeneland is helping reduce greenhouse gases and keeping waste from becoming a part of our soil, water, and our food chain.  I talk to so many business leaders about Environmental Social Governance (ESG), and sometimes I get pushback. They ask me why ESG should be made a priority. My answer is because it is the right thing to do, but more than that, it is the right business decision. The market tells us that ESG will be rewarded, and by embracing sustainability voluntarily, business is telling the world that we do not have to wait for the government to pick winners and losers or tell us what to do. We can govern ourselves.  I invite you to welcome Keeneland, thoroughbred racing, and Kentucky to the sustainability movement, and I challenge other business leaders to join us.


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