The departure of Breeders' Cup senior vice president of sales Carter Carnegie, announced in a press release yesterday weeks after word began to circulate that he was leaving, is neither surprising nor entirely inappropriate.
Carnegie, who spent more than 10 years with the Breeders' Cup, actively pursued the vacancy created when former president and CEO Greg Avioli stepped down in March 2011.
So did Matthew Lutz, who held dual roles as chief operating officer and chief financial for the organization. Lutz quietly departed late last year, months after learning he would not get promoted to CEO.
After a two-month search, the Breeders' Cup board last June hired Craig Fravel as Avioli's replacement. Fravel, a longtime executive for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in California, brought his own culture to the Breeders' Cup, and can't be blamed for wanting to also bring in his own executive team. It's not easy to oversee an organization like the Breeders' Cup, where the board of directors has different factions and often does not speak with one voice. It's important, especially under those circumstances, that those who share a bunker have each other's back.
So last week Fravel brought in Bob Elliston from Turfway Park as chief operating officer, a move that had been many months in the making. Fravel and Elliston became friendly while both served on the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Fravel as unpaid board member and Elliston as a paid executive chairman for the last six years.
For Elliston, the writing has been on the wall at Turfway Park for a while. The track, now owned almost entirely by casino companies, is suffering from a declining quality of racing, stemming largely from the increasing gambling and racing competition in neighboring states. And let's face it, anyone collecting a paycheck from the NTRA, can't be excited about that organization's future.
Of all the Breeders' Cup executives I've seen operate over the last 20 years, no one seemed more at ease than Carnegie did at selling the positive virtues of horse racing or the two-day championships, especially to an international audience. He came to the Breeders' Cup after working on a project for Host Communications involving the National Basketball Association, one of the beasts of the sports marketing world.
During a very difficult time for sports sponsorships in general these past five years, Carnegie brought in new marketing partners and much needed dollars when championship day purses were increased and revenues from foal and stallion nominations have been on the decline.
Filling his shoes will be no easy task.
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