Keeneland throws 100th birthday bash for 'Mr. Bassett'
James E. “Ted” Bassett III – “Mr. Bassett” to his many friends and admirers at Keeneland, throughout Central Kentucky and around the world who cherish his regal demeanor and graciousness – has added another accomplishment to his extraordinary life. On Tuesday, Oct. 26, he turned 100.
Bassett has been synonymous with Keeneland for more than half that time – 53 years in fact. After serving as Kentucky’s Director of State Police, he began working for the Keeneland Association in 1968 and was Keeneland President from 1970-1986 before becoming Chairman of the Board. In 2003, he was named a Keeneland Trustee and now is a Trustee Emeritus. Bassett still maintains an office at a cottage on the Keeneland grounds.
During Bassett’s involvement with Keeneland, the track grew from an afterthought on the nation’s racing calendar to one of the most prominent tracks in North America. Keeneland’s sales arm experienced similar growth over the decades, becoming a major international auction house with a clientele from around the world.
Bassett welcomed many famous guests to Keeneland that included then-California governor Ronald Reagan in 1969, Queen Elizabeth II in 1984 and actors Elizabeth Taylor and George Hamilton in 1986.
Bassett’s service to the Thoroughbred industry is unparalleled: former President of Breeders’ Cup Ltd. and Thoroughbred Racing Associations of America; member of The Jockey Club; Trustee of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, University of Kentucky Equine Research Foundation and Transylvania University; and former Chairman of Equibase and the Kentucky Horse Park.
He has numerous national and international honors for his service to Thoroughbred racing. In 1996, Bassett received an Eclipse Award of Merit for his lifelong contributions. In 2019, he was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame, joining a select group of industry titans recognized as Pillars of the Turf.
Meanwhile, Bassett steered significant fundraising efforts for many worthy causes inside and outside the horse industry in Central Kentucky. Among them:
· Acquiring the Calumet Farm Trophy Collection to prevent it from being auctioned after the legendary farm declared bankruptcy. The collection is housed at the Kentucky Horse Park’s International Museum of the Horse, which honored Bassett with an exhibit of his life in 2014.
· Establishing the University of Kentucky’s Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center, the only scientific institute in the U.S. with nearly all faculty conducting full-time research in equine health and diseases. The Gluck Center’s mission is scientific discovery, education and dissemination of knowledge for the benefit of the health and well-being of horses.
· Building two YMCA facilities in Lexington and upgrading the longstanding facility on High Street.
· Constructing a new facility for the Central Kentucky Blood Center.
· Placing a statue of Sgt Reckless, a horse who carried ammunition for the Marine Corps during the Korean War, at the Kentucky Horse Park.
These are just a few of Bassett’s numerous accomplishments.
Bassett, who was born in Lexington, attended the prestigious Kent School in Connecticut and Yale University. A Marine infantry officer during World War II, he sustained injuries to his hand and knee during a tour in Okinawa that led to a Purple Heart for his service. He participated in the initial landing by Allied Forces on Japanese shores.
He met his wife, Lucy Gay (who died May 1, 2016), at her graduation party in Lexington in 1946. Her father, A.B. “Gus” Gay, was a founding member of the Keeneland Association and was a Keeneland Director for 48 years.
Ted and Lucy wed Dec. 2, 1950, and made their home in New York City, where he worked as a newsprint salesman. The couple moved back to Kentucky in 1954 to reside at her family’s Lanark Farm, and Ted took up tobacco farming for three years. (Lucy Bassett was an accomplished Thoroughbred breeder, who bred 10 stakes winners, including 2003 Breeders’ Cup Distaff-G1 winner Adoration.) The Bassetts had no children.
Stories of Bassett’s remarkable life and achievements with lessons in Keeneland’s history and traditions fill the book Keeneland’s Ted Bassett: My Life, his collaboration with award-winning writer Bill Mooney that was published in 2009.
Click here for another look at the amazing Mr. Bassett.