Breeders’ Cup Reaches Critical Juncture

by | 05.10.2013 | 11:39am

With recent resignations of two of the 13 members from the board of directors over policy and philosophical differences, it's clear the Breeders' Cup has been sailing in some choppy waters lately.

The first resignation came in early March when Oliver Tait, representing Sheikh Mohammed's Darley operation, abruptly quit after the board reversed direction on medication policy. Tait wanted to stay the course on a previously approved policy that would eliminate Lasix in all Breeders' Cup races this year. The majority of the board voted on a compromise that would continue the ban, instituted in 2012, on races restricted to 2-year-olds.

The latest resignation came from Satish Sanan, who has served on the board since 2006, when directors were first elected by Breeders' Cup members.

Sanan quit this week, less than two months before his term expired, because he felt his calls for openness and transparency were falling on deaf ears. Telling that he was also under personal attack by some board members, Sanan said, “When you go to meetings, they've already decided what they're going to do. I think people who have control, The Jockey Club, Breeders' Cup; it's amazing what they've been able to do. They don't like outsiders coming in.”

Yet Sanan, an admitted outsider, was twice elected by stallion and foal nominators and Breeders' Cup members and trustees, the so-called “outer board” that determines who will sit on the 14-member board of directors. The Breeders' Cup is the one major Thoroughbred organization that comes as close to being democratic as anything out there.

Fact is, there are several others on the board, including current chairman Tom Ludt, Jerry Crawford and Barry Weisbord, that don't have a Jockey Club members' necktie hanging in their closet.

Sanan's reelection this year was anything but a sure thing, given the growing criticism he said he's heard from other board members. His spot is one of five of the 13 elected seats (CEO Craig Fravel is automatically on the board) that are in play this year, making this upcoming election among the 48 members a critical one.

Up for re-election are:

–    Jerry Crawford, managing partner of Donegal Racing
–    Roy Jackson, Lael Stables
–    Barry Weisbord, Thoroughbred Daily News publisher (Weisbord replaced David Willmot, who resigned in 2012, after a special election)
–    Seat vacated by Satish Sanan, expires 2013
–    Seat vacated by Oliver Tait, expires 2016

The Breeders' Cup also will be getting a new chairman this year after Tom Ludt said he would not stand for reelection as chairman following his decision to join the Stronach Group's management team. Ludt's replacement will be determined after the new board is seated in July.

Getting beyond board squabbles and internal politics is critical for the Breeders' Cup, which has struggled in recent years on several fronts.

Primary among the issues to be decided are future host sites beyond 2013. There is a shrinking pool of candidates for host-site status.

The medication question, which is obviously a divisive one not just for the Breeders' Cup but the entire industry, also must be resolved.

Then there is the sponsorship market, which all but disappeared following the departure of Carter Carnegie early in 2012. He was not replaced until early this week.

Finally there is the question of the Breeders' Cup event itself, which expanded to two days in 2007, yet has seen little or no growth in pari-mutuel handle. That leads to the very real question of whether the Breeders' Cup has diluted its own product, going from a one-day, eight race championship to two days and 15 races (it will be 14 this year after the decision was made to eliminate the Juvenile Sprint).

Handle in 2006, the most recent one-day Breeders' Cup, totaled $134 million. Two-day handle in 2012 was $127 million. That is not a good trend line.

Whoever is elected to the Breeders' Cup board needs to focus on solutions. This is not an organization or event the industry can afford to see stagnate.

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