UPDATED: Breeders’ Cup board candidates discuss organization’s role, challenges

by | 07.10.2011 | 10:49pm

Six candidates are running for three positions with newly configured four-year terms on the Breeders' Cup Board of Directors, which consists of 13 individuals elected by 48 members (themselves elected by Breeders' Cup stallion and foal nominators), past presidents, and founding members. All six candidates have been elected as members by stallion and foal nominators.Terms of the 13 positions are staggered, meaning three candidates will be up for election each year, with four candidates in the fourth year.

Online voting began last Wednesday and will conclude at the annual members meeting held at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., this Wednesday.

Following are replies from five of the six candidates to three questions posed by the Paulick Report about their unique qualifications and interests, the challenges Breeders' Cup faces and the role it should play within the industry.

Richard T. Santulli's comments did not appear when this article was originally published Monday morning. They have since been added. Garrett O'Rourke of Juddmonte Farms opted not to participate in the Q&A.

BRET JONESAirdrie Stud.
Why are you running for the Breeders' Cup Board and what contributions can you make to the organization?
I am running for the Breeders' Cup Board because I recognize the immensely critical crossroads at which our industry is now standing.  In my opinion, the next few years will be as important as any our game has seen in determining our future direction.  As a young person who decided a long time ago to invest my entire business future in horse racing, I can promise you that no one is more motivated to ensure our sport's longevity.  Just as I stated when I first ran for membership in the Breeders' Cup a year ago, I believe the Breeders' Cup represents the single greatest vehicle to enact the meaningful changes that simply have to take place in order for horse racing to change its current path.

There is not a fan among us that does not wish we had a central governing body in the same vein as the NFL or Major League Baseball.  But we must also recognize that in lieu of such a figure, one of our game's organizations must grab the reins and find a way to implement so many of the changes that our industry needs if it wishes to progress forward rather than continuing to fall back.  The Breeders' Cup is in a position, through its possession of our sport's championship races, to change the perception of our game's drug culture by barring medication violators from our championship, bring about the backside transparency and wagering integrity that our all-important gamblers must have in order to continue to want to wager on our product, and continue to tie in the rest of the racing calendar to our weekend so that Saturday racing once again means something to more than just our shrinking number of core fans.

It is my belief in the Breeders' Cup to bring about these changes that leads me to seek a seat on the Board of Directors, and I pledge to be a youthful and energized voice on this hugely important board.  
What do you see as the most pressing issues Breeders' Cup faces?
Just as I answered in my recent interview with the Thoroughbred Daily News on this subject, the biggest issue confronting the Breeders' Cup is the same issue that is confronting our industry as a whole:  Our game continues to lose significance in contemporary sports culture.  Our sport has lost fans by not putting out a product that gets them excited on a weekly basis, we have lost gamblers by not ensuring the integrity of this product, and we have compounded these problems by failing to move at the same pace of the sports and gambling entities that we compete with in embracing the technological advances that have become a staple in our modern society.  

While these represent the shortcomings of our past, I believe wholeheartedly that horse racing is a saleable product.  There is a reason that we all love this game so much, and because of this, I know that the issue of losing ground with other sports is one that can be resolved.  I believe the Breeders' Cup must set the tone for the rest of our industry by making the changes that are needed to bring back the fans and gamblers that will make us competitive within the current sports landscape.
Do you believe Breeders' Cup should focus solely on the championship event and qualifying races, or assume a larger industry leadership role?
From my previous answers, it should be obvious that I not only believe that the Breeders' Cup SHOULD assume a larger industry leadership role, I believe they MUST.  Our championship weekend of racing will always be our most visible contribution to the sport, but in order for racing to ascend to the level that we all want, the Breeders' Cup needs to be a major driving force for our industry as a whole.  

ROBERT MANFUSO – Chanceland Farm.
Why are you running for the Breeders' Cup Board and what contributions can you make to the organization?
I bring experience as a board member who has helped build the Breeders' Cup to where it is today. I'm also someone from outside of Kentucky, representing the Midatlantic region who as a former partner in the Maryland Jockey Club has experience from the racetrack side of things and in dealing with state regulators.

What do you see as the most pressing issues Breeders' Cup faces?
It's very important to continue along the path that we've taken, making this a much stronger event internationally, which we've done through the new nominations program. We have to keep focused on the event and on the mission that John Gaines created, and not get distracted from our mission statement.

Do you believe Breeder's Cup should focus solely on the championship event and qualifying races, or assume a larger industry leadership role?
The Breeders' Cup can lead the industry In some ways, but we have to remain focused on our own mission statement and build on the strength of the Breeders' Cup as racing's most important event.

BILL OPPENHEIM – veteran racing journalist, publisher, and breeding consultant. Oppenheim began by saying: “I am going to be a little bit contrary and answer your questions in reverse order, only because the answer to (3) impacts on the other two questions.”
Do you believe Breeders' Cup should focus solely on the championship event and qualifying races, or assume a larger industry leadership role?
I believe the answer to this is (a) the Breeders' Cup should focus (maybe not 'solely') on the championship event and qualifying races, not (b) assume a larger industry role. Here's why: in 2009 the Breeders' Cup went through a year-long Strategic Planning Process, chaired by Satish Sanan. This was a transparent, inclusive, and comprehensive process, and this very question was one of those addressed by the outside consultant, William Field, a sports industry consultant based in London, England. Field's report to the Committee found that the Breeders' Cup has evolved into a strong brand, internationally as well as domestically, and his recommendation was that the organization should devote its resources to building the Breeders' Cup brand, rather than to attempt to fix all the North American industry's problems, a significant number over which it has no control. In other words, we must lead by example. The Board of Directors at the time adopted this recommendation, is my understanding of it. Future boards may decide to reverse this policy, but unless that happens my belief is we are committed to option (a), not option (b), and I agree with that.

What do you see as the most pressing issues Breeders' Cup faces?
The number one issue, for me, is to implement the expansion of the Breeders' Cup brand, and that needs to happen both domestically and internationally. Another of William Field's recommendations is that we should try to expand the Breeders' Cup 'narrative' domestically, beyond the two-day Championships. This is what's behind the new version of Win-and-You're-In Challenge races domestically: to try and begin building a longer narrative, beginning after the Triple Crown and building interest toward the big weekend, such as the initiative to promote the road to the Breeders' Cup Classic which has been recently announced.

But also we need to work to make Championship weekend a truly world-class, destination sports event. Internationally – I don't think people realize just how strong the Breeders' Cup brand is internationally. It's by far the most recognized 'brand' in American racing. I've lived in Scotland since 1993, and, especially since I've been a 'big board' member since 2008, I've seen first-hand, and been told, how keen the racing community is on the Breeders' Cup, in Europe but worldwide, too. The fact that 390 stallions from 17 different countries, including 160 Southern Hemisphere stallions, have signed up to the new international nominations program is testimony to the enthusiasm for the Breeders' Cup internationally. So, generally, we must make all the moves we can to generate more international runners, more international eyes watching on the day, more international betting on the Breeders' Cup – especially because one of the main missions of the Breeders' Cup is to try and expand markets for North American breeders.

Specifically, this same international community looks to the Breeders' Cup to lead the American industry and run the Championship weekend races without race-day medication. If we want to be a true World Championship event, and not just a World Series of Baseball, this needs to happen. There is an ad-hoc Committee addressing this issue, but inevitably it will come up for a vote sooner or later. I would vote for such a ban; but one of the great strengths of the Breeders' Cup is the recognition that we must move forward by consensus; if I vote for a ban but the consensus is no ban, I will defend that consensus to the international breeding community. We have to work that way; we have, as much as possible, to speak with one voice.

Why are you running for the Breeders' Cup Board and what contributions can you make to the organization?
First, a conviction that right now the Breeders' Cup is the only organization in North American racing that can instigate real, positive change on a national level. I didn't know that when I was recruited to run for the 'big board' in 2008. I was skeptical. I said to Greg Avioli I was an activist type, was there something I could do, and Greg suggested I join the Racing and Nominations Committee, then chaired by Bob Manfuso, and later, after Bob was elected Vice-Chairman, by Clem Murphy. It was through the work of that Committee that I have become such a strong advocate of the Breeders' Cup. One thing I do want to say is that we have an increasingly strong, activist 'big board' which has the political will and energy to continue moving forward. Further, the organization and the industry cannot lose in this election: every one of the other candidates would be a great choice for the Board of Directors. I'd like to vote for all of them.
If there were such a thing as an 'at-large' seat on the Board, I think that would describe my candidacy; I'm kind of an 'at-large' candidate, in that I don't represent a specific farm or constituency, more the breeding industry as a whole. I like to think I am open-minded, collaborative, and pragmatic. Inaction is not an option, yet we cannot be drowned by a cacophony of voices. The outside world can only listen to one voice at a time, so we must achieve consensus for real advances to take place.
Thanks very much for the opportunity to respond to these questions.

RICHARD T. SANTULLI – Colts Neck Stables.
Why are you running for the Breeders' Cup Board and what contributions can you make to the organization?
I believe I can be helpful in working with the Breeders' Cup Board in continuing the positive trend of the last few years. I have been an owner/breeder for over 30 years, and a horseplayer for over 40 years. I have also built and been CEO of three successful companies, which enables me to be a positive contributor as a member of the Investment Committee, Compensation Committee and Search Committee, each of which I presently serve on.

What do you see as the most pressing issues Breeders' Cup faces?
Do you believe Breeders' Cup should focus solely on the championship event and qualifying races, or assume a larger industry leadership role?

I believe that the answer to question No. 3 is the answer to question No. 2.  The Breeders' Cup is one of only two institutions that can effect meaningful change in the Thoroughbred industry.  We have the financial ability, the venue, and a group of members and directors that have the ability and commitment to create positive change.  Now is the time to put into place the broad group of measures that will reverse the direction our industry is going in.

BARRY WEISBORD – owner and breeder, president of Thoroughbred Daily News.
Why are you running for the Breeders' Cup board and what contributions can you make to the organization?
I am running for the chance to apply the skills I have learned in the past 30 years of my professional career – creating and producing racing events, as well as my experience in media, communications and PR. I believe that is a skillset that could be very helpful to the Breeders' Cup in dealing with their business, and in helping the board to develop and realize the organization's vision.

What do you see as the most pressing issues Breeders' Cup faces?
The biggest issue facing us is: How do we give our competition more impact, both from the point of view of our weekend event, and through the expansion of our competition in a more meaningful way throughout the year.

Last year, I was named co-chairman of the newly created Enhanced Experience Committee, which was formed to directly address what I think is one of the biggest issues: making the weekend more impactful for fans, bettors and race participants.

I am proud that our committee, in a short period of time, has been able to accomplish a number of improvements for this year's competition, including:

– A vastly improved dining experience for premium ticket holders.
– Free programs for all attendees.
– A backstretch luxury breakfast hospitality area for the participants, with the best view of the on-going training on the track.
– The introduction of a new Thursday night kickoff event, celebrating the international cuisine of the participating countries.
– A “Sweet Taste of Success” post-race area, where the Breeders' Cup Ltd. will entertain the winning owners and their guests in a celebratory setting.

Additionally, we have worked hard to deliver our on-track and simulcast fans a better media experience, and will introduce this year:

– An in-house feed that will deliver more of the sights, sounds and excitement of the day to on-track fans.
– A simulcast feed that will include the latest Trakus elements for our remote bettors and fans.

Do you believe Breeders' Cup should focus solely on the championship event and qualifying races, or assume a larger industry leadership role?
As everyone knows, the industry is facing distressing times. Some of the problems facing the industry involve the necessity of producing a more structured sports product to engage sports fans and sponsors, national media, and making these events visible on television.

These and other issues like them will be highlighted in the McKinsey Report, and are issues in which the Breeders' Cup must be involved. I don't think there has ever been a time in the racing business that the industry has needed the leadership that the Breeders' Cup can offer than there is right now.

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