TOBA at 50: More failures than successes

by | 04.23.2011 | 12:30pm

I'm really proud today of the company where I spent 15 years as editor, Blood-Horse Publications.

In honor of the 50-year anniversary of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, the non-profit that owns Blood-Horse, the magazine could have published a puff piece about its parent.  Instead, an article co-written by Eric Mitchell and Lenny Shulman listed the many things that TOBA has been incapable of accomplishing, along with its few successes.

Even in its praise, the article points out that it took TOBA's Graded Stakes Committee more than 30 years to flex its muscles to get things like steroids banned from racing or to have minimum drug testing standards in various states.  It lists the Sales Integrity Program as an accomplishment while admitting critics say it doesn't go far enough.

The article lists TOBA's failures over the years: an inability to foresee or react to the technological and economic changes advance deposit wagering would bring, resulting in lower revenue to tracks and horsemen; failure to broker a deal that would create an industry-owned ADW company; failure to create a championship racing series it spent considerable resources on, or an owners organization with “teeth”; an inability to come to any substantial conclusions on racetrack safety, despite decades of study; and an association membership declining in numbers.

It points out, inadvertently perhaps, that TOBA can't figure out if it should be trying to hit home runs or bunting its way onto first base.

“We've taken our lumps at times for swinging for the fences and missing, as opposed to hitting singles,” said Dan Metzger, TOBA's president for the last 12 years. “But we think the concepts we try to promote are correct.”

In the same article, Metzger admits: “I think it's important to be a realist and address things we can do rather than pursue great ideas that can't be done,” he said.

Current TOBA chairman Reynolds Bell said, “I would love to see TOBA do more to benefit the industry through the owners' leadership and participation.”

But Metzger said “owners want to join the country club; they don't want to cut the grass.”

Is this baseball, golf or horse racing? This leads me to ask if TOBA  has a good grip on what its mission really is.

Maybe that's why membership has dwindled over the past decade, and even its own magazine finds that TOBA has had more failures than successes.

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