A mid-February storm brought us more than frosty fields in Central Kentucky. As the breeding season officially opened and foals started arriving in earnest, a thick coating of ice was the culprit for tree limbs bowing to the ground.
Despite the cold, the news cycle of the week in the bluegrass rode a hot streak.
In Frankfort, the state’s capital, the House of Representatives approved legislation protecting Historical Horse Racing just a few days after it had passed the Senate. Gov. Andy Beshear is expected to sign the bill that redefines the state’s definition of pari-mutuel wagering to include HHR games. A good portion of HHR revenue fuels purses in Kentucky, which obviously benefits horsemen and should green light construction and renovation projects at Churchill Downs, Ellis Park, and Turfway Park.
The swift work of horse-friendly senator Damon Thayer and representatives David Osborne and Matt Koch is to be commended. Prior to that vote late on Feb. 11 came news from Keeneland that was equally commendable.
The Lexington track announced local horseman Gatewood Bell would join the management team as vice president of racing. The position became available after Bob Elliston resigned from the post in late December.
The horseman has proved successful as a bloodstock agent under the Cromwell Bloodstock banner and the racing partnership Hat Creek Ranch. He previously served on the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and last year was named to Keeneland’s board of directors.
A proponent of the hiring of Bell is Everett Dobson, who has had solid success in racing through his Cheyenne Stables, with the assistance of Bell as his bloodstock agent. In the last decade Dobson has become a member on just about every board we can think of and was named a Keeneland trustee in March 2019.
“I think it’s a great move, and more importantly (new president) Shannon Arvin thinks it’s a great move,” Dobson said. “She identified Gatewood early on as the kind of candidate she was looking for to fill the position. We talked a lot about it and talked with Gatewood a lot about it and came away convinced he was the perfect match for the opening on the racing side. I’m very excited for Keeneland because I think it’s a perfect match, and I’m excited and pleased for Gatewood to make this kind of career move.
“Integrity is at the highest level with Gatewood,” Dobson continued. “I think we first started working together in the bloodstock world more than 10 years ago. In terms of his work ethic, it’s at the highest level and bodes well for what Keeneland strives for as well.”
Dobson expanded on the duties for Bell.
“He will have full control on the racing side of Keeneland; all of the elements of the race meets and racing activities,” he said. “He’ll have responsibility over the health and safety of the horses and the health and safety of the racetrack. The job consists of a lot of interaction with the horsemen, owners, trainers, and jockeys, and he should be very comfortable in that role.
“When you see Gatewood on the backside, whether it’s at Keeneland, Saratoga, or anywhere in the country—even California for that matter—everybody knows Gatewood. For the most part he already has a prior personal relationship with a lot of them. It should be an easy transition for him.”
Pedigree and performance are key elements for success in the Thoroughbred world. Bell has both. His father, Jimmy Bell, is president of Darley America, and Jimmy Bell is the product of John A. Bell III and Jessica Bell. The elder Bell founded Jonabell Farm in 1954 and later helped form the American Horse Council. He was also a strong leader for the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, serving on the publication board of The Blood-Horse.
On the performance side, specifically for Dobson, Gatewood Bell selected and managed grade 1 winner Mastery, who was retired after winning the San Felipe Stakes (G2) in March 2017. Standing at Claiborne Farm, the son of Candy Ride has his first foals recently turning 2.
Keeneland’s upcoming April meet is historically a springboard for early juveniles, and Mastery’s first runners might make the entries. The stand will be a proving ground for both.