By nearly all accounts, Arnold Zetcher is a nice guy. He proved to be too nice to put up with all the b.s. (sorry, but I don't think there is a more appropriate term) that is confronting horse racing in California. During his brief tenure as chairman of Thoroughbred Owners of California, he has been called a thief by Jerry Jamgotchian, the relentless and litigious self-appointed guardian of California horse racing, been ridiculed by horseplayers angry at the recent increase in takeout that was designed to benefit horse owners, and forced into confrontation with the California Thoroughbred Trainers, who want to take over from TOC as the horsemen's representative on contractual issues with the racetracks.
In the end, Zetcher just wants to race and breed his horses and enjoy the sport he came to love in recent years. Like someone in the business told me years ago, most people don't join a country club so they can mow the grass.
The sudden resignation of Zetcher comes at a critical time for California racing. Bay Meadows, one of the two major tracks in Northern California has been closed, and the second, Golden Gate Fields, is not performing well. Hollywood Park is owned by the same land development company that bulldozed Bay Meadows, and that Southern California track won't be around much longer. Santa Anita Park, also in Southern California, went through a bankruptcy proceeding (as did Golden Gate Fields) when Magna Entertainment was forced to liquidate its assets and there were fears it would be sold for development. Zetcher led a TOC committee that explored the possibility of an acquisition of Santa Anita, and all he got for the effort was grief.
The TOC chairmanship is, as Zetcher wrote in his letter of resignation, bigger than he anticipated. It's not a position for someone unwilling to go to the mat on what he or she believes is right for racing and right for horse owners. The late Ed Friendly, who started TOC, weathered many confrontations with tracks, trainers, and regulators. So did the late Bob Lewis, who was as tough on the inside as he was gentle on the outside. Zetcher knows how to run a major business, proving that during a very successful career that had him leading retails giants like Talbots women's fashion chain, Kohl's, John Breuner Company, ad Bonwit-Teller. You don't do that without fighting and winning your share of battles. But after spending decades in boardrooms, the politics and sniping and challenges that face horse racing apparetly are more than Zetcher wants to deal with. I don't blame him.
Unfortunately, his resignation is not a good sign for the future of California racing.
UPDATE: It was brought to my attention that while the CTT may have stated its intention to attempt to decertify the TOC, its goal is to reunite both owners and trainers in a single organization. The California Horsemen's Beneveolent and Protective Association that previously represented horsemen's interests in California consisted of both owners and trainers.
In a letter to the board, TOC Chairman Arnold Zetcher announced his resignation effective Feb. 16, 2011, citing a need to focus his time and energies on his other business and personal interests and expressing his appreciation to his supporters.
Zetcher was elected to the board in 2009 and has served on the Racing Affairs, Owner Relations and Track committees. At its first meeting of the new fiscal year on July 23, 2010 the TOC board elected Zetcher chairman for the 2010-11 term.
Zetcher's Letter to the Board follows in its entirety:
February 7, 2011
After considerable thought, I have decided to resign as Chairman and a member of the Board of Directors of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, effective at the TOC's next board meeting on February 16, 2011. My family and I made this decision on Wednesday, February 2 and communicated it to the TOC leadership over the weekend.
It has become clear to me that the time required for this very important position is well beyond my expectations and has not allowed me adequate time to spend on my other business interests and other boards on which I serve. Therefore, although I have only been Chairman of the TOC for 6 months, I believe it is time to turn these responsibilities over to others.
The TOC is an extremely important contributor to California horse racing and the individuals who volunteer for its board should receive the thanks from the entire industry. I wish them only the best as they represent owners and continue their efforts to improve thoroughbred racing in California.
At this stage in my life, I look forward to returning to managing my own racing and breeding stable, which has grown considerably. I also want to thank all of the many supporters who helped me during my time as Chairman.
Zetcher's top stakes winners include Gabby's Golden Gal, Richard's Kid, EZ's Gentleman and Zardana, and he has campaigned such notable runners as Tizzy's Tune, Gabrielina Giof and multiple graded stakes winner House of Fortune. Zetcher is the retired President, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Talbots, a chain of over 1,100 women's specialty stores.
“It is a loss to the industry when someone of Arnold's caliber and experience moves on,” said TOC Vice Chairman Brian Boudreau. “With so many demands on his time, we know this was a very difficult decision for Arnold but one that was done in the best interests of his family and other endeavors, but will be a tremendous loss for the TOC. The TOC board would like to express its gratitude to Arnold for his service and wish him well in the future.”
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