by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am
By Ray Paulick
Some people have asked me why I think it is so important for there to be a change in leadership, starting with the 13-member board of Directors, at the Breeders’ Cup. There currently are six board seats up for election, with electronic voting currently taking place from July 1-8 among the 48-person board of Members and Trustees (along with two ex-presidents and two current officers of the organization). The Members and Trustees hold their annual meeting on July 9, where the electronic votes and those cast in person will be tabulated. Ten individuals are running for the six seats, and there is marked difference in their philosophies.There are numerous reasons for there to be a change, not the least of which is that it is simply time for someone else to run the organization. The Breeders’ Cup for too long has been in the clutches of a handful of people who have run it, for better or worse, as a private club.

But it’s much more than that. Some of the recent decisions made by management and approved by the 13-member board of Directors have been roundly criticized, and deservedly so. Among them are the decision to hold back-to-back Breeders’ Cups at Santa Anita on a synthetic main track that many horsemen dislike; the ticket-pricing mistake at the 2008 Breeders’ Cup; the short-lived decision to suspend the Breeders’ Cup stakes supplement program; and the oddly configured and regionally uneven structure of the “Win and You’re In” qualifying races.

Let’s look at “Win and You’re In” first. Daily Racing Form publisher Steven Crist, in calling the series “illogical and imbalanced,” pointed out what appears to be a significant anti-New York bias. In an interview with Breeders’ Cup marketing executive Peter Land, Crist gave Land just enough rope to hang himself with his explanation. Land, Crist wrote, said Saratoga was left out of the “Win and You’re In” series because the Breeders’ Cup decided to “invest in the fall rather than the summer.” But that didn’t explain why Del Mar, whose meet overlaps Saratoga’s, had eight stakes labeled “Win and You’re In” while Saratoga had zero.

As Crist wrote, “When the industry's leaders wonder why racing often is not considered a big-league professional sport, they need look no farther than the patently unfair and incomplete ‘Win and You're In’ schedule to see why.”

In addition, there is bad blood between executives of the Breeders’ Cup and the New York Racing Association, and because of that some thought has been given to excluding Belmont Park as a future host site of the championships. It last served as host in 2005.There’s no place for this kind of pettiness in a sport that is struggling, and for the Breeders’ Cup board to allow this feud to continue is inexcusable.

Land, I’m afraid, may also be the culprit for the price-gouging then went on at the 2008 Breeders’ Cup, when horsemen and fans who wanted to attend either of the two days were required to buy a two-day package. If that wasn’t bad enough, the seat prices were outrageous in comparison to past years. At least Land and the Breeders’ Cup recognized the errors of their ways, and for 2009 have eliminated the two-day package requirement and reduced prices substantially.

That’s fine, but what on earth were they thinking when they set those prices? (And, yes, I know, there was a meltdown in the economy in September, just a little over a month before the Breeders’ Cup. But it was clear before then ticket sales were slow in reaction to the high prices.)

The philosophy of selecting host sites has been an important subject of a Breeders’ Cup Strategic Planning Committee that has been meeting for the past several months. There is one camp that feels the event should rotate evenly among California, Kentucky and New York, and another that wants to see Kentucky on an every-other-year rotation with the two coasts. There also may be those who want to establish a permanent site (with some suggesting an expansion of Keeneland would be tied to that decision to make the Lexington track a permanent host). Yet no one (other than some Californians perhaps) seems to like the idea of back-to-back Breeders’ Cups at Santa Anita Park on the Pro-Ride synthetic main track. But that’s what we have, and there already are repercussions, with Jess Jackson saying there is no way he will run Preakness-winning filly Rachel Alexandra in this year’s Breeders’ Cup.

Who thought that was a good idea?

Finally, much has been written and said about the move last December to eliminate the stakes supplements that have been part of the Breeders’ Cup since its inception. The outrage that led to a reversal of the decision seemed not so much based on eliminating the program, but on the timing and manner of how the decision was made—namely, in a vacuum.

It’s this “we know what’s best for you” philosophy and the kicking and screaming against transparency (board meetings without published agendas, minutes or attendance records for those meetings that are not made available, promises of complete election results but delivery of only partial vote counts) that may have led so many Breeders’ Cup nominators to vote against incumbents and associates of the “old guard” or “status quo” candidates in the recent election of Members and Trustees.

I encourage those who were newly elected, along with existing Members and Trustees who believe a change in leadership would benefit the Breeders’ Cup, to vote for the following candidates in the board of Directors election: Tom Ludt of Vinery, Clem Murphy of Coolmore/Ashford, Richard Santulli of Jayeff “B” Stables, John Sikura of Hill ‘n’ Dale, Oliver Tait of Darley, and Duncan Taylor of Taylor Made Farm and Sales Agency. It's my belief they represent positive change for the future of the Breeders' Cup.

Let me repeat what I wrote about these six candidates last week. They are very strong candidates who bring a diverse set of skills and industry and/or outside business experience. Santulli and Sikura were rebuffed in last year’s election, which outraged many breeders who recognize both men for their intellect and commitment to this industry. Santulli has an extraordinary reputation in the business world, and Sikura is widely respected as a man with, as the saying goes, “skin in the game,” and a no-nonsense approach to getting things done. Murphy and Tait represent the two largest farms with the greatest global vision and would be a great asset to the board of Directors as the Breedrs’ Cup seeks to expand internationally. Ludt has demonstrated independence and a common-sense approach to analysis and problem solving in various industry leadership positions, and Taylor is one of the brightest marketing people in the Thoroughbred industry today who has a compassion  and drive to see the industry  reconnect with the public.

Reynolds Bell, G. Watts Humphrey Jr, and Robert Manfuso, who are running for reelection, have been a part of the leadership that’s been involved in some of the questionable decisions of the recent past. It’s time for them to be replaced. The fourth candidate running for reelection, Don Robinson, only recently joined the board after the resignation of B. Wayne Hughes. I have heard nothing but good things about Robinson and how he conducts his business at Winter Quarter Farms. He was, however, appointed to the board by Bill Farish, the Breeders’ Cup chairman who is said to dole out committee chairmanships and other appointments with the expectation that those he favors remain loyal to him when push comes to shove.

And there’s some pushing and shoving going on right now in the scramble for those six open board seats. 

Copyright © 2009, The Paulick Report

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