The Jockey Club: What Would We Do Without Them?

by | 02.11.2014 | 3:11pm

Things I thought I'd never say.

“Where would the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry be today if it weren't for The Jockey Club?”

That thought occurred to me at the annual Jockeys' Guild Assembly in Florida recently when I heard presentations on a relatively new injury database and baseline testing for concussions of riders. Both projects are dependent on The Jockey Club for either financial or technological support. These are necessary programs in the modern era of sport where the long-term effects of concussions and other injuries are under scrutiny like never before.

For those who may be new to horse racing, The Jockey Club is, indeed, a “club” – and a private one at that – but it is not comprised of jockeys. Instead, it is a somewhat mysterious organization of mostly wealthy individuals with an interest in horse racing who have been invited to become members. A small group of members called “stewards” are the de facto executive committee. There is no publicized criteria for membership or transparency in how The Jockey Club operates, other than its IRS Form 990, which, by law, is public record and gives some indication of its finances. The Jockey Club's core responsibility is to be the registrar of the Thoroughbred breed but it has a much broader vision and mission today than its founders ever could have imagined.

When that “what would we do without them?” thought hit me, I flashed back to some of the other projects either driven by The Jockey Club or getting their critical support: the Equine Injury Database that is going to make a difference in prevention of injuries to racehorses; the push to create more fans for our sport through America's Best Racing and the just-launched Jockey Club Tour on FOX televised racing series; the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, an area neglected by national organizations for too long; and Equibase, which next year will celebrate its 25th anniversary as the sport's official database.

It's doubtful any of these endeavors would have gained traction without The Jockey Club.

All of this happened under the watch of Ogden Mills Phipps, better known as “Dinny,” who has served as chairman of The Jockey Club since 1983. A cynic might say he's been at the wheel as the industry drove itself into the ditch. An optimist would say he's in the tow-truck, trying to pull things back on track.

Both would be right.

For too long, The Jockey Club served as an obstacle around which every new or progressive idea had to go around. If it wasn't their idea, or The Jockey Club didn't control it, the widely held belief was new ventures had no chance of succeeding.

The biggest example of Phipps and The Jockey Club exerting their influence was the death of the National Thoroughbred Association – which would have created an entity similar to the PGA Tour in golf where the “talent” (horse owners) controlled operations at a major league level. When the late John Gaines, who earlier created the Breeders' Cup, brought this idea forward with support from many powerful horse owners, Phipps and The Jockey Club transformed it into the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which brought racetracks, existing horsemen's organizations, the Breeders' Cup and, yes, The Jockey Club into the decision-making sphere. Too many chefs ruined that soup, and the NTRA has little influence today on how the sport is conducted.

But that, as they say, is Turf history. Today's Jockey Club seems more solution oriented than ever before, and that's a refreshing thing, especially since everyone else in the industry is either treading water or looking for places to plug in slot machines or set up online poker games.

The one nut The Jockey Club has been unable to crack is that of structure, and the examples involving the concussion baseline study and jockey injury database demonstrate that challenge. Participation levels are low. The jockey injury database, for example, which is designed to collect information on any “incident” involving a jockey whether injured or not (i.e., thrown at start of race but not hurt), has about 10 percent participation, making the data inconclusive so far. On another front, there are tracks, including Oaklawn Park in Arkansas and Los Alamitos in California, that have not agreed to supply any information to the Equine Injury Database.

The Jockey Club's response to that seems to be, “We'll keep chugging along in hopes you'll get on board, sooner or later.” As a former critic of The Jockey Club who will continue to voice my opinion in areas where I think the organization is falling short (Equibase being the best example), let me just say this: I'm on board. Without The Jockey Club's leadership, this industry would be in far worse shape than it is today.

  • Craig Brogden

    A dictatorship can sometimes do good things. When The Jockey Club becomes a democratic organization that represents all members then the participation rate will likely increase for these ventures that they are trying to develop.

  • Lexington 4

    Do they use the money we give them for foal registrations to fund their anti-Lasix propaganda website?

  • betterthannothing

    “The jockey injury database, for example, which is designed to collect information on any “incident” involving a jockey whether injuredor not (i.e., thrown at start of race but not hurt), has about 10 percent participation, making the data inconclusive so far. On another front, there are tracks, including Oaklawn Park in Arkansas and Los Alamitos in California, that have not agreed to supply any information to the Equine Injury Database.”

    – a national racing commission
    – a racehorse protection agency
    – the USADA

    • Hamish

      TJC could be an integral part of getting your “needed” list accomplished if it really wanted to be. My guess is at some point, Mr. Phipps and TJC will come off its “neutral” position on using federal legislation to create what’s necessary for long term horse industry survival and prosperity. The concept and framework exist to get the job done now, sooner rather than later, so may the collective wisdom of TJC play a vital role in pulling it all together.

      • betterthannothing

        We can only keep hoping that some will see the light and decide that selective, safer and fair racing is better than the current massive, often ugly mess! If TJC has any power, why is it taking so long to improve racing after hearing what needs to be done, especially about drugs, year after year during its annual round table?

        • Hamish

          Good question. TJC knows what both the problems and the opportunities are, but they seem somewhat reluctant to lead the charge. Granted the organization and its members have no authorized power to do much of anything, but I think TJC has $40 million or so in the bank and a who’s who list of affluent insiders with the ability to drive industry wide agendas. Maybe TJC thinks the majority of horse industry folks that are not as privileged as they will reject their suggested reforms? If TJC programs and initiatives like Ray mentions in this piece were being proffered, why would any reasonable horse person at any level reject TJC’s lead? It’s time for a new way Jockey Club, so I hope TJC leverages its resources and vast knowledge of the Thoroughbred, and helps build a better future for our sport. This can wait no longer.

          • betterthannothing

            “Maybe TJC thinks the majority of horse industry folks that are not as privileged as they will reject their suggested reforms?”

            Improving racing quality means shrinking it, as it must be done. The HBPA supports quantity (on drugs) over quality.

  • Concerned Observer

    Interestingly, in America seemingly everyone is against more laws, except we want all our neighbors to all be law abiding citizens. (conflicting directions?) It is sort of the same with the JC. The rules were in-place when we arrived in racing, so we somehow think they were always there (god given?). The JC adds structure and rules and it is the consistent structure and rules, that enhances the winning.
    However, when the JC ventures into promotion and marketing, I hope they have the vision, skills and artistic talent to do it properly. Marketing is an art and it takes more than oil and canvas to be an artist. Rich old men have a notoriously difficult time relating to the unruly youthful masses.
    (think Beatles arrival in America 50 years ago…now Sir Paul McCartney).

    • fb0252

      i’ll just be happy when the first internet horse racing add appears beside the poker adds.

  • Bman

    Ray, can you briefly elaborate on Equibase and why they fall short?

  • AngelaFromAbilene

    As long as the JC keeps NOT allowing AI and other use of breeding technology [embryo transfers, multiple ET’s, cloning, etc.] I’ll keep supporting them. I know there is a push from some breeders to at least allow AI but the AQHA started with that and look what they’ve become.

  • Bellwether

    They need help…Period…

  • Garrett Redmond

    Right now I do not have the time and I doubt you would allow me the space to comment on all that is wrong with The Jockey Club of New York. Briefly, it is the anchor, the dead-weight,
    the burden and drag on American racing and anywhere else it has influence.
    The Club does not have any jockeys as members, nor does it have any horsemen .
    I assert few, if any, members know how to: put tack on a horse; ride a horse;
    deliver a foal; do any of the multiplicity of other things a horseman does.
    It is run by people who are equally ignorant about Thoroughbreds. I do not believe that
    being from an Italian family and a Fordham graduate is adequate qualification for the job.
    Nevertheless, they run the Club. Former President, Alan Marzelli, told me Mr. Phipps is
    just a figurehead.
    The Club is a tax-exempt entity; another term for ‘Non-profit’. Considering the huge salaries
    paid to executives, of course it is not showing a profit.
    Under this type of management the Club has invested and expanded into numerous
    enterprises from which it earns tons of money. What must be borne in mind is all seed money for these investments was gathered from Registration fees levied on the breeders.
    Do the breeders get any return on the investment of their money? Heck no!
    The Club regularly increases fees. The fee is now more than twice what the Quarter
    Horse Association charges for registration.
    The Club is now so big in Thoroughbred business, it is almost “too big to fail”.
    The dangers of that type situation figure largely in recent economic history.
    The aim of the Club is to have absolute power over the business. Everybody must know
    the saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
    I could go on and on, but time and space …

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