Keith Brackpool has a mission: helping to make horse racing a national pastime in the United States. And he’s starting with the Santa Anita track in metropolitan Los Angeles.
As West Coast Chairman of the Stronach Group, he wanted to make sure that the iconic track is relevant in today’s entertainment world. In the past, stadiums had been male-dominated, without televisions, and were built for standing only.
“For too long horse racing spent too much of its money marketing to a demographic they desired but not offering the product that demographic wanted,” Brackpool says. It was time to change that. In January 2013, Stronach Group announced that Brackpool had taken an equity share in the Group and would direct its West Coast operations.
Brackpool was involved in ushering through renovations to the magnificent art deco stadium, a perennial host of the famed Breeder’s Cup race. The goal was to attract a younger, more diverse clientele, who would see the track as a viable entertainment option. One of the guiding principles during renovation was the idea that “You don’t need to go to Las Vegas for the day, you can come here.”
And it appears to be working. The number of post-renovation visitors to the stadium who say they would come back is very high, a fact of which the Stronach Group is most proud. If there was any doubt whether Santa Anita has entered the modern age, this settles it: the stadium will pay 50 percent of your Uber to get there. There is also a shuttle from the newly opened Metro Gold line.
What does Brackpool think has attributed to the stadium’s success?
“You are reliant on so many people to do the job. There is no possible way you
could be successful unless you are very collaborative.”
“It is a combination of (keeping) the integrity of the original design along with the setting. The fact you’re in an extraordinarily densely populated area like LA and all of a sudden are in a part with open space and the staggering San Gabriel mountains as the backdrop.”
Horse racing wasn’t something Brackpool was unfamiliar with when presented with a business opportunity. An English native, he was a racehorse owner and fan his entire life. “There is greater exposure to the sport in England as a fan than there has been in the U.S. historically,” he says. “It’s like asking an American if you had ever been to a baseball game.”
By the time he become a minority equity partner with the Stronach Group, Brackpool had been Chair of the California Horse Racing Board for almost four years. He owns a dozen of his own horses and clearly feels connected to them, saying, “There is something about an individual horse that is like a human.” In fact, one of the first horses he ever bought, Elbio, turned out to be a world champion.
Brackpool wants to bring together owners and fans in experiencing the “thrill of seeing your course and your colors come down that lane.” He continues, “I love the sport as a fan, even though now it is a much bigger part of my life than when I was just a fan.”
Santa Anita has started to attract celebrities once again, who enjoy the stadium’s secluded private areas and the ability to “maintain a sense of a nice afternoon out without being
surrounded by cameras and crowds.”
However, the ultimate show of success will be millennials flooding the stadium gates. Then “this would have been a very worthwhile last few years.”
As for his thoughts on leadership, Brackpool is quick to give praise where praise is due. “You are reliant on so many people to do the job. There is no possible way you could be successful unless you are very collaborative.” He adds, “Sometimes things are going well and you believe it’s because of your actions. Sometimes it can be in spite of your actions, so take a second hard look.”