The past week was all about closed-door industry committee meetings in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., designed to save racing from itself.
Such is the nature of an industry that is run by a handful of self-appointed “leaders,” who then like to show off their might during a thunderous display of power at the annual Jockey Club Round Table on Sunday morning. Tut-tut. The Round Table, hosted by Jockey Club chairman Dinny Phipps, is preceded the night before by a sumptuous feast (called Dinny's Din-Din by some) for Jockey Club members and selected guests at the National Museum of Racing, where dozens of aging white men are able to determine whether or not their tuxedos still fit them from a year earlier.
Speaking of the National Museum of Racing, the Paulick Report began its week pointing out some of the cracks in that aging, inertia-driven institution, such as a dismal financial record that had the charity watchdog Web site CharityNavigator.com give it zero stars on a four-star ranking system. But the Paulick Report also gives the museum a zero on creativity and less than a zero on transparency and candor.
Try this exercise: See if you can find out who the trustees of the National Museum of Racing are. Check the Web site: not there. Call communications director Mike Kane and ask: when the Paulick Report did that a few months ago, we were told (on orders from the museum director) that those names could not be disclosed. Which begs the question: Why? What are the trustees of the National Museum of Racing afraid of, and why are they trying to hide from the public? Perhaps they don't feel as though they should be accountable to anyone.
Accountability? That would be a new one for Dinny Phipps, the Jockey Club chairman and de facto strongman of the New York Racing Association. It's been more than 25 years since Phipps carried the official title of chairman of the board of trustees of the NYRA, but he's still numero uno in clubhouse box assignments at Saratoga and Belmont Park, and that says a lot. So do his behind the scenes power plays on behalf of NYRA and the Jockey Club, which continue to be incestuously intertwined.
Phipps hasn't been satisfied just being the boss of New York racing. According to Fred Pope, the Lexington, Ky., advertising executive who created the National Thoroughbred Association, Phipps managed to put the dagger into that effort to give racing “major league” status and instead transformed it into a trade association that neutralized the power that Thoroughbred owners were attempting to seize NTA through the (just as team owners in the NFL, NBA, MLB, or golfers in the PGA Tour have done).
But it's all about control for Phipps and his Jockey Club vice chairman William S. Farish. Whether it's Jockey Club president Alan Marzelli bullying NTRA executives on when to hold meetings and who to invite, or surrogates for Phipps and Farish populating industry boards and leadership positions, they want to make certain nothing moves forward without their stamp of approval. Their sphere of control includes such institutions as the Breeders' Cup, Keeneland, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and its American Graded Stakes Committee, Bloodhorse magazine, and, of course, the New York Racing Association, among other groups.
There is growing awareness among industry stakeholders that this control may be contributing to the decline of the sport. Efforts have been made to derail the mighty Jockey Club and bring new leaders and fresh ideas to the forefront, but those efforts have been turned back…for now.
Will those who want change continue to fight, or will they fall like others before them to the mighty clutches of power that a handful of people wield in the Thoroughred racing and breeding industry?
That's a question the Paulick Report cannot answer.
Copyright © 2008, The Paulick Report
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