If the Breeders' Cup board of directors and management thought the decision last month to reinstate the stakes supplement program in 2009 (less than a week after voting to suspend it) was going to quiet any dissenting voices, they were wrong. A scathing commentary on the Breeders' Cup, written by longtime owner and breeder Peter Blum and appearing in the Jan. 10, 2009, edition of the Thoroughbred Times, states publicly what a number of nominators to the program have been saying privately for some time: the Breeders' Cup has lost its way.
Blum's commentary is a must read. If you're not a subscriber to the Thoroughbred Times (the article, unfortunately, is not available online), do yourself a favor and beg, borrow or steal a copy of the Jan. 10 issue.
Blum insists the Breeders' Cup will not be living up to its mission if the board eliminates the stakes supplements after 2009, as many fear will happen. Board chairman Bill Farish said the reinstatement applied only to 2009. Blum suggests some of the Breeders' Cup leaders “mirror the problems that characterize virtually all of our industry's leadership; they are uncreative, self-serving, arrogant, out of touch, and not mindful of their constituents.”
He also questions the investment strategy for the organization's cash reserves, saying the “mismanagement of our money amounts to a serious breach of trust and a failure of fiduciary responsibility.” Blum said he is appalled by compensation packages for and lack of accountability by top management, and believes voting for board of director seats is “skewed.”
His conclusion is a call to action by others who have similar feelings: “We have lost the Breeders' Cup as it was defined in its original mission statement,” Blum wrote. “It is time for breeders to take it back.”
Blum's plea should serve as a reminder for breeders throughout the country not to give up on the program and continue to nominate their stallions and foals. The financial backbone of the nominations remains in Kentucky, but every single stallion or foal nominator is a stakeholder in the program who has the opportunity to vote in the annual election of members and trustees. Those members and trustees decide who sits on the Breeders' Cup board, so the elections are critically important. As citizens of Florida in 2000 and Minnesota in 2008 learned, every vote matters.
It will be interesting to see how the Breeders' Cup reacts to Blum's commentary. Will board chairman Farish and CEO Greg Avioli chant a “this too shall pass” mantra and instead focus on a behind-the-scenes strategy to ensure the balance of power on the Breeders' Cup board of members and trustees remains in their favor when 13 of them are elected later this year? Will they use a vehicle like Bloodhorse magazine, on whose board Farish sits, to respond to Blum's criticism?
The Breeders' Cup is not just feeling heat from breeders. There is more than a little sentiment throughout the industry that the expansion of the former one-day, eight-race program to a two-day, 14-race event has diluted the championships among American fans (while, admittedly, increasing interest for European horsemen). Additionally, many racing fans were vocal in their disapproval of the Breeders' Cup moving all of the filly and mare races to the Friday program in 2008.
The Oak Tree Racing Association, which opted to guarantee $5 million in revenue to the Breeders' Cup for hosting the 2008 championships at Santa Anita Park, reportedly fell more than $2 million short because of weak ticket sales and lower than anticipated on-track handle. I imagine Oak Tree officials aren't thrilled with that deal right now. The two sides have been busy working on a settlement that will not jeopardize the Cup's scheduled return to Santa Anita in 2009.
The growing criticism of the Breeders' Cup is no small matter. By many accounts, its creation more than 25 years ago was one of the most positive developments the sport has ever seen. No one – including breeders, owners, jockeys, trainers, racetrack companies and racing fans – wants this enormous industry asset to be lost in a maze created through poor leadership.
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