10/17/2001 12:00AM

Bassett steps down at Keeneland


James E. "Ted" Bassett III announced Wednesday he is retiring after 15 years as the chairman of the board of the Keeneland Association.

Bassett, who will turn 80 on Oct. 26, announced his decision at a board of directors meeting at the track, but he said he will continue to serve on the board and as a trustee. Bassett will also continue to head the International Racing Championship Series, officials said.

"It is an appropriate time to retire with the young, talented and new team making progress and assuming responsibility for the Keeneland operation," Bassett said in a statement.

A Lexington, Ky., native, Bassett has been chairman of Keeneland since 1986, when revenues from Keeneland's July sales were spiraling upward during the dizzying 1980s bloodstock boom. He began his career at Keeneland in 1968 as an assistant to president Louis Lee Haggin II, and in 1969 was elevated to general manager. One year later, he was appointed president.

Before coming to Keeneland, Bassett served in the Marines during World War II as a first lieutenant. The experience he gained in the Marines was a significant influence on his work ethic, co-workers said.

"He was very much in charge, but he also promoted a team atmosphere," said Jim Williams, Keeneland's director of publicity, who worked with Bassett for 30 years. "He would outwork anyone who worked for him, and anywhere he went, he was in a leadership position."

Bassett was awarded Thoroughbred racing's highest honor, the Eclipse Award of Merit, in 1995.