At Keeneland’s January Horses of All Ages Sale, which has been held this week, buyers are concentrating on bloodstock, while a pair of interns in the Sales Department are focused on a future in the Thoroughbred industry.
Wes Peterson, the son of two equine veterinarians, and Blake Sims, trainer Phil Sims’ youngest son, have a front row seat to the inner workings of an industry that’s already played a significant role in their lives, another step in what they hope will be a long career in the Thoroughbred business. During the sale, the two work alongside Keeneland’s bid spotters, ticket writers and sales counter representatives to experience all aspects of the operation.
“This is an international industry full of people who are very passionate and that’s the thing I really like about it,” Peterson, 26, said. “I’ve always aspired to be involved in it. It’s what I’ve wanted for a long time.”
Peterson, whose family lived in western Colorado before moving to Lexington, attended Henry Clay High School and studied agricultural economics at the University of Kentucky. He joined Keeneland as an intern in the Fall of 2014 and worked with sponsorship and marketing before transitioning to racing and sales. He recently completed his Masters of Business Administration through Morehead State University’s online program and is in the process of applying to the Darley Flying Start program for 2016.
“I’ve wanted to do sales ever since I went to my first (Keeneland) sale in 2010,” Peterson said. “It’s exciting to be a part of (the sales). The buzz and the energy that was going on with the new horses coming in every season and everyone looking for the next (big horse), it’s very charismatic and I knew I wanted to do Thoroughbred sales. Everything I’ve been doing since that sale has been working toward being a sales associate at a company like Keeneland.”
Sims, a 17-year-old senior at Scott County High School in Georgetown, Ky., has spent most of his life at Keeneland where his father has notched 42 victories, including the 2009 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) with Hot Cha Cha and 2014 Juddmonte Spinster (G1) with Don’t Tell Sophia. The younger Sims began working as an intern during Keeneland’s 2015 September Yearling Sale.
“I love Keeneland,” Sims said. “It’s always been my home track. And I’ve always wanted to stay in Kentucky, so I have looked at this as a way in, but it’s also broadened my horizons. There are just so many great things about (Keeneland and the industry). It’s really eye-opening to see everything that goes into the auction, the oil that runs this machine. Keeneland treats every buyer and consignor at the sale in such a world-class manner.”
Sims’ older brother, Matt, has followed their father into training, but the younger Sims has his eye on the bloodstock business. He speaks Japanese, is studying German and already has been accepted to UK as a pre-management major in the Gatton College of Business and Economics.
“I was always interested in other things until about 10 or 11 years old,” Sims said. “There was an article I read about (Associate Director of Sales) Mr. (Tom) Thornbury and (Vice President of Racing) Mr. (Rogers) Beasley about how they traveled overseas and recruited buyers to Keeneland. I said, ‘That would be pretty neat.’
“When I got to high school I started taking Japanese and thought international business could really be a thing and got started. I realized how important horses were to me. I started talking to Mr. Thornbury last spring and asked if I could maybe jump in with Keeneland during the sales.”
Peterson and Sims are immersed in Keeneland’s day-to-day operations during its sales, receiving hands-on experience and networking opportunities for what they hope will be a future in the industry.
“There was a phrase I heard, ‘You always want to chase your dream but never quite catch it,’ ” Peterson said. “You always want to pursue and work toward that dream, and I want to make sure I’m focused on that goal.”