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.

  • Roger

    To make matters worse from the pari – mutuel side of the business…..holding the Breeder’s Cup in a State (CA) with some of the HIGHEST EXOTIC TAKEOUT RATES is problematic.

  • Lexington 3

    “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.”

    Fact is, those are not likely the power players Sanan was frustrated with, Ray.

    I mean, seriously, a media guy? And Ludt is leaving.

    • RayPaulick

      When Tom Ludt joined the Stronach Group, he said he is not standing for re-election as chairman but is not stepping down from the board. My point was that the board is made up of more than just Jockey Club members.

      • Lexington 3

        Fair enough, Ray.

        But that doesn’t have anything to do with the issue of who “attacked” Sanan or Sanan’s quote about how “decisions were made at “meetings before meetings.”

        There are more problems than just the politically active Jockey Club. There is also the KHRC. And now the RCI.

        I think Sanan was just making a point about small groups of people with power and used two examples to illustrate that, namely the Jockey Club and the Breeders’ Cup.

  • Knowitall

    Yes they have indeed diluted their pristine and elegant product, and flew right into the face of a bad economy, all while trying to ratchet up the “appeal” of the “prestigious event” to the masses (aka price gouging), obsequious catering to the wealthy owners who are not moved in the least by an exclusive C list celeb party in exchange for 3% entry fee, and while losing sponsorship dollars partly due to the bad publicity the Jockey Club via NYT led media campaign against drugs dug up… that blew back in their faces when certain media pals ran off the reservation. Now grown Richie Rich CEO’s are acting like “mean girls” and the wounded little boys can’t even finish out their committed terms and then step aside and not run for reelection. It’s like an episode of “Scandal.” Hard to believe;-)

    • Don Reed

      Changing the event from one to two days absolutely destroyed its appeal.

      I used to look forward to the BC each year, intensely. Now, I can’t be bothered. It’s… Just One More Thing that American horse racing has destroyed.

      Every time someone (unpaid opinion) has stated that the watered-down product sucks, the BC paid spokesmen proclaim what a success the two-day event has been.

      Sure, two days brought in more money. If you leave your garbage out on the curb two days in a row, you have to pay your Sanitation Department twice as much to remove it.

      • William Koester

        Well said, no one is better at killing Santa Claus than people in the horse business. Quantity always trumps quality.

  • Richard C

    They wanted a Super Bowl – poor planning and better ideas stalled on yielding turf have brought a bowl smashed into tiny pieces.

  • Lizz

    I think all the issues with Breeders’ Cup just highlights a larger issue. There is no unity in the industry in the states as a whole because there’s no designated leader. Breeders’ Cup is an event, not an authority. They will essentially have to do what’s best for Breeders’ Cup as a business over what it takes to “fix” US racing. Until the US has a central authority like the BHA has for England, we’ll never come to conclusions on Lasix or other industry issues.

  • thevoiceoftruth69

    The Breeders Cup is a joke. If the “thoroughbred championships” can’t run without drugs then the whole thing is a sham. Didn’t bet last year, won’t bet this year.

  • keen observer

    Satish’s call for transparency is code for “whaa, whaa, whaa. I never got my way.” He would only have been satisfied if he was the Chair and the meetings were simulcast live on Steve Byk’s show.

    • NAFTA

      Exactamundo! This guy playing the victim about made me spit up my coffee this morning. Unfortunately, he did get his way sometimes – and the BC is worse off for it.

    • zchairman

      I personally don’t know anyone on the current BC Board, only by reputation (I would not want some of theirs), but to be fair, that is true of any organization like this. I do know for certain from past BC Board members who I have spoken to at length that what Mr. Sanon says about lack of transparency and everything being decided by ‘meetings before official meetings’ by a small ‘self-serving’ group who do not represent the best interests of all stakeholders in racing, including bettors, owners, trainers, race tracks and every aspect of the game. That is the consensus opinion of many past Board members who speak without fear of retribution of being ‘drummed out of the organization’—that seems to be pretty much the way they ‘roll’.
      I love the BC event, I have no personal animosity against the current Board and hope that somehow, they can get their act together. If you look objectively at all the important metrics (handle, field size, revenue generation of all kinds, viewership, ratings, TV coverage etc.)—directionally, things are going very wrong and if they were a publically held company, I would spend my last dollar ‘shorting their stock’.
      I am doing some research to satisfy my own curiosity about Mr. Sanon’s claims about the BC Board being a ‘rigged game’, that only people who the current BC Board members want on the board can actually get on the Board—more to come when I am confident of my facts to the point the BC will not dispute them.

  • jttf

    the two year old turf races and sprint race are a waste of time. not very good fields for the sprint and the american tracks do not pay attention to 2 year old turf racing. there isnt one grade 1 turf race for 2 year olds. save that money for a synthetic breeders cup held on the 2nd saturday in february. run a 7 furlong sprint ($million) and a 9 furlong ($2 million) synthetic classic race. the breeders cup turf race ($3 million) isnt bringing any top foreign horses over anymore. the ascot meet is in late october and the arc de trioumphe race horses arent coming over as often. so scratch that race in november and put it in february also. maybe change it to 10 furlongs. the timing of these races will be a good prep for the world dubai races and the santa anita handicap. the undercard will include the camino de real derby and california oaks. if you put the races on the tapeta at golden gate, it will be the perfect surface for tapeta in dubai. you will even see some of the dirt star horses run a 2nd time for a breeders cup trophy. the foreign horses should come, because they had so much success on the santa anita synthetic in the 2008 and 2009 breeders cup races.

  • Daynus Jividen

    Maybe it’s just time for the Breeders’ Cup to call it a day? What was wrong with the old days when the Champagne, Jockey Club Gold Cup, et al. closed out the season and decided the championships? Have the Breeders’ Cup races ever served much more of a function than as distractions from and dilutions of racings’ traditional late season championship fixtures?

    • Windways

      Serious? The Breeders Cup was a genius move by John Gaines and brought more excitement in North American racing with the exception of the Kentucky Derby and triple crown contenders heading into the Belmont. I don’t like the two day format (does anyone?) but to say it is a distraction is just wrong!

      • marshall cassidy


        Of course you’re entitled to your opinion and there are reasons to applaud several races contested during the Breeders’ Cup run, but I’m not sure I agree with your overall assessment Gaines’ brainchild was genius.

        It could be said he and his partners devised a means to an end for the waning 1980s Thoroughbred breeding industry. His self-serving “genius” uprooted long-established racing strategies and traditions that made sense of yearly training progressions. His movable feast has managed to serve up a whole lot of hash and heartburn as side dishes to the manufactured Breeders’ Cup hoopla. And, the public reception to Thoroughbred horse racing has continued along pretty much as uninspired as it was following Affirmed-Alydar’s crest of 1978.

        No, I don’t think John Gaines’ plan has panned out as promised.

        • Windways

          Did stallion owners and breeders benefit from the BC? Of course they did, but his view was to provide what horse racing was missing; a championship day. I respect your long term industry involvement and knowledge, but everything evolves and not always for the better. I don’t think it is fair to blame Mr.Gaines for today’s training regimens. Trainers used to focus on all three Triple Crown races and now want to pick and choose their spots. Another strategy that hurts our industry. In spite of its recent missteps, I still consider the BC to be a great franchise.

          • Larry Ensor

            I’m curious, how or in what way do you think breeders have benefited from the BC?

          • Windways

            Breeders Awards, additional graded stakes to enhance pedigrees, international showcasing of pedigrees etc.
            Also, i agree with your comment about his resignation.

          • Larry Ensor

            The chances of getting a BC breeders award are slim to none. But that was
            not why I used to nominate our foals. It was for the greater good of the
            industry. I have not seen that happened. IMO it has been mismanaged pretty much
            from the start. IMO it is sort of like public schools boards. A multimillion
            dollar company run by well meaning people most of which have personal agendas.
            I have not nominated any foals in 6 years and have no intention. Very few buyer
            have ever asked if my yearling are BC nominated and when told they were not they
            still sold for very good money. No a dime less or a dime more if they had been.

      • Larry Ensor

        And Mr. Gaines stepped down shortly after its inception. Due to philosophical differences with the original board. All of which IMO he was right about.

  • Concerned Observer

    The breeders Cup was a brilliant idea…..and it has been a huge financial sucess.
    However, it has totally missed it’s opportunity to lead the industry, develop new ideas and drag the entire sport to a new, relavant and positive position.
    Problem? The old guard, “no idea folks” run the breeders cup…what else could you expect?

    • NAFTA

      In fairness to the past people involved in the Breeders’ Cup, there was once upon a time when they DID do their best to adhere to their mission statement, which was (and maybe still is) to improve the economic conditions of T’bred racing as a whole through the program. Gradually, the focus on staying true to this mission statement eroded, probably capped by the fallout with the NTRA in 2006 and their massive board-demanded layoffs in conjunction, which gutted the org of some of the important legacy employees, i.e. people that would do anything to protect it. Once that happened and Van Clief retired shortly thereafter, the revenue-seeking hubris of the Board took over, they had management in place to do what they wanted, and we are where we are now today, whereby they badly overreached in several critical areas in an attempt for growth , and apparently are incapable of either admitting or fixing their mistakes.

  • Dayjur

    The problem with the Breeders’ Cup is the Board itself. Too many agendas with people that have been successful in running farms and other horse related businesses. Except for the nominations, the BC is a sports property and an event so it should be run as such. Get rid of the Board, become a for profit entity and give it a chance to grow.

    • Stanley inman

      Love your thinking
      The board wallows in it’s
      Cozy political mudpit
      Manage a world championship
      of racing;
      Morning line in 2024
      80/1 (if it’s still here)
      Ray nailed it… “this is not a good trend line”
      2006 134 million (one day)
      2012 127 million (two day)
      Ships listing to port sir
      She’s taking on water

  • Its the same old BS when it comes to Horse racing coast to coast…NO EXPOSURE!!!…Go figure that out…

  • voiceofreason

    “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

    1 billion % fact. That’s why lack of change is the norm. We are doomed.

  • I’m not knowledgeable about the politics of the BC. I am completely aware, however, of how unhappy many folks were about the 2012BC at SA last year, and I’ve posted about it here before. On Monday, May 13, I’ll likely buy my tickets for 2013BC. But maybe not. And I can’t believe I am saying that. I looked forward to the event last year and even put up with ordering tickes FIVE MONTHS in advance and all that folderal, but upon arrival at the event, it just looked cheesy to me and there was almost NO thought – let me repeat this – NO THOUGHT given to whether than spectator/fan had a good experience.

    WE DID NOT. WE DID NOT. Is anyone from BC listening? I don’t think so.

    No access to the paddock, to the saddling barns, horrid views, obstructed views, little plannint as to placement of photographers along the track [edited] completely blocking the views of paying customers, half-baked audio, no ability to buy food in a reasonably efficient way. I found it nearly impossible to even make a bet so I just gave up on it.

    I’ve written to the BC, I’ve posted on blogs, and I am ignored, shoved aside, or lectured on how the owners need exclusive access to the saddling areas and paddock. REALLY? I just watched a TVG special on the 2009 BC when Zenyatta won and there were NO restrictions AT ALL.

    I’ve said it before and will say it again. The horse industry in this country is PATHOLOGICALLY SUICIDAL.

  • David switzer

    How important is simulcast revenue to Breeder’s Cup purses? Who controls simulcast approvals?

  • mike g rutherford

    Sanan we will not miss! He’s gone period. Tait is a grand guy while I disagree with Tait on the Lasix issue he is a smart guy & was an asset to racing. American racing is completely different than European racing. Lasix is not a enhancing drug its a diuretic American racing will never have a Czar thank God & we do not need the federal government ruining it like the Post office! I noticed the Phipps horse Orb is racing on Lasix .Orb is a grand colt & has a great trainer. Every year the Derby gets bigger & the Breeders Cup is still a wonderful event. Horse racing is very much alive in-spite of us. Our glass is half full, not half empty & we need to be positive and promote the beauty of Horse Racing instead off negative trash talk. Lets talk about the upcoming Preakness & the big crowd that will be in attendance! Mike G. Rutherford

    • drary10

      “Our glass is half full, not half empty”.
      Full of what?

  • Bob from Boston

    I have been attending the BC since 2003 + have wagered + watched all 29 years. When it goes to Santa Anita, I throw my fear of flying away + jump on the Boston-LAX non-stop flight. I sit in the same seat every year at SA. Last year(2012), they charged $150 for the 2 day ticket. This year(2013), same exact seat, they just charged me $206! No more reserved seats for me after this year!

  • Kingturf

    I like the 2 day event, but it’s a problem when you are running the Breeder’s cup at Santa Anita and Churchill Downs only. The beauty of the Breeder’s Cup was the different tracks that played host. I understand many was disappointed when Monmouth got one of the heaviest rain falls and that put a damper on that year card. But I was a fan of Belmont, Gulfstream Park, Arlington and Woodbine with a complete understanding that I do not want no part of synthetic tracks for the Breeder’s Cup. I think we may need to re-think some of the other races and get it back to maybe a 10 race card. Friday’s card is tough because most people are leaving work to get their bets down.

  • Indulto

    It’s the two days back-to-back that tests fan and bankroll stamina, increases the cost of of participating, and penalizes the working person.

    Running the races in the dark and/or in the west coast time zone make it less convenient for many. Lot’s of people still like to bet the BC from simulcast centers rather than on-line.

    I would consider running two days at separate tracks with all four 2YO races moved back to December along with the Marathon and turf sprint. The remaining eight races would be run on the traditional Saturday with the Classic run in full daylight. The second day should include Hialeah in any rotation.

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