For those of you wondering whether I'd gone into the witness protection program following the announcement of election results for the Breeders' Cup board of members and trustees (where 10 of those elected were recommended here in an earlier analysis), fear not. As one of my mentors in this business often reminds me, family should be a person's top priority, and I've spent the last couple of days carrying out his advice.
Several things stood out when the results were announced on Tuesday. First, I believe they represent a victory for continuing the trend toward transparency and openness for the organization. There should be no turning back to the days of secrecy with how the industry's money is being spent at the Breeders' Cup. Minutes to board meetings should be posted on the Breeders' Cup web site, information about committees and subcommittees needs to be published, and decisions should no longer be made in a vacuum. I believe the board of directors, which has taken steps in the right direction over the last couple of years, has been put on notice in that regard during this year's vote by nominators.
Second, I believe the results showed dissatisfaction with the status quo. Two members of the smaller operating board of directors, Don Dizney of Florida and Tracy Farmer, were not re-elected to the larger board of members and trustees. It's that larger board that decides who to elect for the smaller operating board, and to be a candidate you have to be on the board of members and trustees. Dizney and Farmer will be replaced on the smaller board after having been defeated in the election.
Third, the results show the strength of stallion farms and coalitions, something I wrote about last year. I don't think any one stallion operation has the votes to elect an individual to the board of members and trustees, but several farms working together can do so. And there was coalition building going on prior to and during this election process.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the leading vote getter among Breeders' Cup nominees, Richard Santulli, is the same man rejected by a majority of members and trustees voting for the smaller board of directors last year. I wrote then that the members and trustees made a huge mistake in not electing Santulli to the board. He is a man with great energy, enthusiasm for this industry and great business experience that could be put to extraordinarily good use by the Breeders' Cup. He is chairman of NetJets and often is mentioned as a potential heir apparent to Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffet. Perhaps the “old guard” on the board of members and trustees voted against Santulli because NetJets dropped its Breeders' Cup sponsorship, or maybe because he is closely associated with Thoroughbred Daily News Publisher Barry Weisbord, who can be a prickly critic of the status quo. It's also widely believed that Santulli felt the Breeders' Cup should have sought executive experience from outside of horse racing when current Breeders' Cup president and CEO Greg Avioli was given the job in 2007. Putting him on the smaller board could add some discomfort to management.
Whatever the reason, the nominators in this election voiced strong disapproval of the vote to keep Santulli off the operating board. Let's hope he still has the interest in giving his time, energies and insights to the industry and will submit his name for nomination later this month.
There are six open spots on the board of directors, and if dissatisfaction with the status quo and the old guard carries over into that election, we could have a significant change in philosophy on the operating board. As mentioned, the board positions currently held by Tracy Farmer and Donald Dizney are open because they failed to be re-elected to the board of members and trustees. The other four candidates that are up for re-election are Reynolds Bell, Don Robinson (appointed to fill out the remainder of the term held by B. Wayne Hughes, following the decision by Hughes to resign from the board earlier this year), G. Watts Humphrey and Bob Manfuso.
Bell and Humphrey are closely associated with Lane's End Farm, owned by William S. Farish, the father of current Breeders' Cup board chairman Bill Farish. For years, Humphrey and the senior Farish were the guiding force of the Breeders' Cup executive committee, back when the organization practiced limited transparency and operated under the auspices of a self-perpetuating board.
While the old guard from the Jockey Club (Farish is a Jockey Club member, his father-in-law is chairman Ogden Mills (Dinny) Phipps and his father is vice chairman, Humphrey is a longtime member and former steward, and Bell is a member and current steward of the club) did maintain control in the last board election, their grip on power has been weakened. I expect the slate of candidates from opponents of the status quo/old guard to make a concerted effort to defeat Humphrey and Bell in the upcoming election. Sources say Bell, who does extensive bloodstock work for Lane's End, has been hand-picked by the Farishes to replace Bill Farish as Breeders' Cup chairman if Farish serves five years, the limit for a chairman under the organization's current bylaws. He has served three years in that role.
There will be much more here in the coming weeks on the Breeders' Cup board election, which takes place during a meeting of the newly elected members and trustees on July 9. Candidates seeking a position on the board have until June 30 to state their intention to run.
Copyright © 2009, The Paulick Report
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