by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am
By Ray Paulick

Nominators to the Breeders' Cup program and the Members and Trustees they elected in June have spoken loudly and clearly, and the 13-person board of Directors has five new members from the six positions that were voted on last week. Only one of six incumbents up for re-election managed to retain his position on the board of Directors. That's a pretty strong statement from the nominators and the 48 Members and Trustees who select the board of Directors.

There may be distinct differences in the two factions that have sought control of the Breeders' Cup, in areas like governance, transparency and accountability to the stakeholders. There may even be differences in defining who Breeders' Cup stakeholders or customers are.

But the election cycle is over until June 2010, and whatever differences existed between the two camps—within both the board of Members and Trustees and the smaller operating board of Directors–should be set aside for now, so that the important work on the long-term strategic plan can be done in a collaborative and cooperative manner.

The plan, presented to the Members and Trustees last Thursday, is in itself an example of what can be accomplished if individuals, who may have differences of opinion in many areas, focus instead on what they have in common: namely, a desire to support breeders by promoting the growth of the Thoroughbred racing industry through the staging of the Breeders' Cup competition. That, in fact, is the new mission statement of the Breeders' Cup, and I, for one, am glad to see the organization look beyond its late-season championship event.

It's not enough for the Breeders' Cup to have a successful day (or two) of racing. Given the ineffectiveness of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and other organizations like the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, or the Jockey Club, the Breeders' Cup may be the only entity that has the critical mass to better organize and promote the sport on a national basis.

Though the 400-page strategic plan has not been released and author William Field of the international consulting firm Value Partners said it is a broad strategy that does not include tactical details, it was revealed that one of the keys to this plan will be to strengthen the road to the championships. This is something that's been tried before without any measurable success.

Satish Sanan, who deserves a great deal of credit for the cat herding he did as chairman of the Strategic Planning Committee, said racetracks have to be looked upon as partners for a racing series to be effective. “In any business, if you are going to be successful and form long-term relationships, the word partnership means you must be willing to share long-term risks and rewards,” Sanan said in a conference call with Breeders' Cup nominators and the racing media on Friday. “Your goals really have to be aligned…I think all of the conflicts you hear about really will go away, particularly if it is an all-encompassing partnership. There is a big strategic difference in how we have done it and how we plan to do it in the future.”

That may be easier said than done, which is why it is so important for the Breeders' Cup board of Directors to support its management team as it attempts to connect the dots the strategic plan has laid out for them. Putting together a financial and implementation plan that includes long-term partnerships with the tracks is on the shoulders of Breeders' Cup president Greg Avioli and the other Breeders' Cup executives. Considerations for the plan include what to do with the millions of dollars currently being used to supplement stakes around the country, whether to turn the Breeders' Cup championships back to a one-day event, to reduce the number of races, or to cut purses. Those are big questions, and they have until December to answer them and finalize a detailed, tactical plan.

There will be time down the road to discuss the issues that divide some of the Members and Trustees and individuals on the board of Directors: election procedures and eligibility, transparency and bylaws. However, the priority between now and the end of the year has to be on turning the strategic plan into something tangible that can help the Breeders' Cup, racetracks and the sport as a whole.

It's crunch time.

Copyright © 2009, The Paulick Report

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