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‘I hope it gives other women hope’: Lexington woman makes history at Keeneland

Published: Apr. 29, 2021 at 2:25 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - The horse racing industry is dominated by men, but when Keeneland selected its first President and CEO, they made history—and didn’t have to go far to find their leader.

Shannon Arvin has to pinch herself to make sure that it’s not a dream.

“I do, for sure, and I think about that a lot. I mean, I think especially having lost my dad at what felt like an early age, and my grandfather died, had a pretty long life,” said Arvin, the President and CEO of Keeneland.

Arvin’s roots at Keeneland go back two generations. Her grandfather, W. T. Bishop, known as “Bish,” was Keeneland’s first general manager, when the track opened in 1936. And her father, W.T Bishop, known as “Buddy” served as director, secretary, and trustee, and even lived at Keeneland in an apartment.

“There was an apartment up on the third floor, where it’s now office space. And my dad and my Aunt J, and my grandparents lived up there, and my mom says she can remember where the Christmas tree was. He was always on call,” Arvin said.

As a teenager, Arvin worked in the Keeneland sales office, on the switch board, and the message center. Later she graduated with a law degree and joined her dad at the law firm, Stoll Keenon Ogen, and was legal counsel to Keeneland.

“And working with him was definitely a dream, and once we did that I got to work with him for seven years, and got to know so many people in this industry. And so that’s really what made me continue to come back to the equine industry,” Arvin said.

Last July she made history. She’s only the 8th president of Keeneland, and it’s certainly not lost on her that she is the first woman in that job. She is a trailblazer.

“I hope it gives other women hope, and encouragement to keep at it,” Arvin said. “You know I think there are lots of days, particularly for women and mothers, where they’re trying to juggle so many different things, and it can become discouraging. I definitely had times in my career when I was discouraged, even times when I thought, maybe I should just go a different path because this is such a challenge, with my husband working full time and me working full time. But at the end of the day I just get up every morning, and do my job the very best. It’s rewarding and gratifying that it paid off. And I hope my children, my daughters Bishop and McCutchen, who are nine and 11, that it gives them encouragement too, that they can do anything they want to do.”

She credits building and developing relationships in the horse industry as a key to her success. And yes, she’ll be at the Derby. Her pick?

“So we will be rooting for Essential Quality who won our Blue Grass Stakes opening weekend,” Arvin said.

Arvin is thrilled to have welcomed fans back for the Spring Meet. She says cancelling the Spring Meet and the April horse sale last year because of the pandemic was very difficult, but the right decision. Looking forward, she wants to find new ways to bring fans closer to the horses.

“Take the best of what we do, the best of our traditions because we have many important ones. But innovate and move forward that draws more people into this amazing sport,” Arvin said.

Keeneland finished the Spring Meet last Friday with a limited number of fans, about 7,000 each race day. The fall meet is October 8-30, Wednesday through Sunday.

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