O’Keefe, a self-described “computer dinosaur that needs help on almost everything,” was a man ahead of his time when he made the central entry system. Soon, he started adding history and archival information to what became centralentryoffice.com.
To create the historic record of unsanctioned steeplechasing in America – one that incorporates National Steeplechase Association records, too, once a week, O’Keefe would travel 20 miles north of his family’s Pine Brook Farm in Bealeton, Virginia to the Middleburg offices of the Chronicle of the Horse. The Chronicle keeps bound volumes of their weekly magazines, which until recently included race reports - or at least results, from every sanctioned and unsanctioned steeplechase in the U.S. The magazine reported on every jump meet in America until the last few years.
“I basically spent a lifetime loading information, so far, all the way back to the ‘70s,” O’Keefe says. “(Wife) Kathleen’ll tell you – this is clearly my passion.
“But, last couple years, I started realizing I’m not going to do it forever because I won’t be here forever.”
So when Charlie Fenwick, former TGSF president, suggested Central Entry might be a good fit for the Temple Gwathmey Steeplechase Foundation and its mission, O’Keefe recognized a natural match.
The foundation, O’Keefe says, has funding and experienced staff capable of learning the race week entry process and archival data entry. In addition, new software can be applied to make the processes more seamless, he figures.
It was a way to protect the precious information plus carry it into the future, O’Keefe says.
"TGSF wanted to partner with Central Entry Office as the best way to preserve the amazing history that Will has recorded," said the Gwathmey Foundation's executive director Alissa Norman. "Nowhere else is there a database that covers sanctioned and unsanctioned racing, all the way back to 1970. Part of TGSF's mission is to preserve the history of the sport, so Central Entry fits right in to the mission."
Over the years, O’Keefe says he’s noticed trends in the industry, even as everything else seems to be shifting to digital input. “Most of the hunter pace people are fine to enter online,” he explains, “but steeplechase horsemen, most of them much prefer to call in their entries. I think a lot of them like to talk just as much as make their entries.
“One I remember – and I sure miss him, (the late) Paddy Neilson would always call Monday morning around 7 a.m. He knew other people wouldn’t be calling ‘til 8, or after, and he knew we could talk for a while.”
O’Keefe says he’s downsizing in other ways as well. He and wife Kathleen have sold Pine Brook and purchased a historic house to renovate in nearby Remington. They’ll board a horse or two in nearby Warrenton but plan to enjoy a new normal of living in town without a farm to care for.
As for any anticipated “changes” in the CEO entry process or accessing archival information this season, O’Keefe says horsemen need not worry. CEO’s website will continue to exist and auto-update. Overnights will be posted Mondays and scratches and changes reported Wednesdays. Most results are available a few hours after the last race on a point-to-point card.
Norman says, eventually, she’d like to take more entries online. “This will streamline the process and reduce errors” she says, though she acknowledges that O’Keefe’s personal touch was as much part of CEO’s mission and success as anything else.
"Trying to take over for Will... it keeps me up at night, to be honest," she says. "I'm so grateful for his willingness to pass on his knowledge, but I totally realize there's no way he could teach me everything. When he's lived and breathed both the sport and the Central Entry Office for so many years, there's just no way to teach that."
Betsy Burke Parker's 2020 story about Will O'Keefe, part of the TGSF "Legends of Steeplechase" series, can be found HERE.