BROADBENT: A TOUGH, BRILLIANT VISIONARY

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am

By Ray Paulick

The first time I met Richard F. “Dick” Broadbent III, I'll have to admit that he scared the hell out of me. It was March of 1988, and I had just moved from a cozy job at Daily Racing Form in Los Angeles to Lexington, Ky., to become managing editor of the Thoroughbred Times, the weekly magazine he launched in September 1985 with Mark Simon as editor. Broadbent seemed larger than life: intense, demanding, and often infuriating. But he was also brilliant, understood the kind of information Thoroughbred breeders and owners needed, and had a vision for where technology and the industry was heading.

He loved to look out into the parking lot each morning from his third-floor perch at the Bloodstock Research Information Services building on Corporate Drive, bang on the window loudly with his ring as you arrived at work, then signal you to come upstairs to his office. You never knew what to expect: an interrogation about a real or imagined friendship you might have with someone, a news lead he'd heard over dinner, or an idea for a new statistical feature he had come up with overnight. Eventually, I learned to park on the side of the building away from his window and sneak into the Times' first-floor offices.

Dick was always fighting for the underdog, because he was one himself. In 1971, he developed Bloodstock Research (also known as BRIS, or now brisnet.com), the first computerized database of racing and breeding information. It wasn't long before he found himself at war with the Jockey Club. It was a war that never seemed to end, and the fact that the Jockey Club building was right next door made it all the more pervasive.

In my first week at the Thoroughbred Times, Dick had insisted we run a readership survey about the Jockey Club, on how efficiently and cost-effective the organization handled foal registrations, blood-testing, and customer service. But the last question on the survey, which I'll paraphrase, was like a loaded gun: should the Jockey Club use money from its non-profit registry to fund a for-profit database to compete with other companies.

The question had to do with EquineLine, the for-profit company the Jockey Club established in the late 1980s to compete with Bloodstock Research. EquineLine's emergence only fueled Dick's hatred of the Jockey Club. Because it was a war he knew he'd have a hard time winning, he immediately began to shift his company's emphasis away from just providing statistical products to breeders and toward handicapping services for horseplayers. This was long before most people had personal computers, but he saw the future.

In addition to starting the Thoroughbred Times, Dick was way ahead of his time when he launched a daily online product called “Thoroughbred Daily News” nearly 30 years ago. That daily information service evolved into the present-day TDN, now owned by Barry Weisbord and Sue Finley. He also started Stallion Access, a service where breeders could buy stallion seasons and shares online or at an auction. Again this was long before most people had personal computers.


Simon, who has stayed with Thoroughbred Times through two ownership changes, was working for the old Thoroughbred Record in 1985 when Broadbent called and offered him a job to run a new publication. “Typical of Dick, he didn't tell me what kind of publication it was going to be,” Simon said. “If he had said it was going to be a weekly, competing with the Thoroughbred Record and Blood-Horse, I probably wouldn't have taken it. That was in June of 1985, and we published our first issue Sept. 20, three months later.”

Broadbent had compiled a database of 35,000 names of people who bred or owned Thoroughbreds or had some other connection to the industry, and mailed them free copies of the new weekly at the outset. The Times, then a black-and-white newspaper tabloid, found a niche, especially with blue-collar breeders outside of Kentucky. Eventually, the Thoroughbred Record, owned by Peter Brant, was forced to go monthly because of the increased competition, and then merged with Thoroughbred Times in 1988. When Broadbent sold his interest a few years later, he and Simon fell out.

“You were either his friend or his enemy and there was nothing in between,” Simon said.

I'll second that. In 1991, when I opted to leave Thoroughbred Times to become Midwest editor of the short-lived Racing Times daily newspaper, Broadbent had me thrown out of the building unceremoniously. “You were public enemy No. 1,” Simon reminded me when we reminisced on Tuesday after learning of Dick's passing. For his part, Broadbent said he never wanted to see me again: “If I do see you around our building, I'll turn you into a speed bump,” he warned me.

His anger toward me didn't last, especially after he became a born-again Christian and devoted much of his time and energy to Christian Word Ministries, a non-profit organization he created to distribute prayer books, Bibles and tapes at no cost to anyone who wanted them.

We talked on numerous occasions during and after my years at the Blood-Horse, and tried to collaborate on some statistical projects, even though Blood-Horse was joined at the hip with the Jockey Club and EquineLine. “I know I'm not going to get your business,” he would say. “All I've got to do is look at your board of trustees (most of them members or stewards of the Jockey Club).”

Of course, he was right. He almost always was. In fact, any time he asked me a question, I'm 95% sure he knew the answer. He was just looking for confirmation.

There was a lot of stimulating discussion around the old Bloodstock Research building in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. The late John M.S. Finney, the Fasig-Tipton executive, had an office there, and so did bloodstock consultant Ric Waldman, who Broadbent tabbed as the first president of Stallion Access.

“Dick was really a brilliant guy and a lot of fun to interact with,” said Waldman. “When he started Bloodstock Research, who would have known that we would come as far as we have using the computer? And then, when the competition (from EquineLine) became too great selling pedigree information, he reinvented the company into a very successful handicapping and betting service.”

In 2007, after he had turned the reins over to his oldest son, Happy, Broadbent sold the companies to Churchill Downs Inc. Happy Broadbent continues to run brisnet.com for its new owner.

“He certainly was mentally stimulating,” Waldman said. “When you spent time with Dick, you left feeling a whole lot more informed and smarter than when you came in.”

Waldman said he always remained on Broadbent's good side, but he saw plenty of people who didn't.

“Even if you had a run-in with Dick, time would heal those wounds,” Waldman said. “You could very easily switch from friend to enemy and then switch back. He told me once that he could make peace with anybody unless they harmed his family, and I believe that to be true.

“Selfishly, I've missed the interaction I used to have with him. He was a great guy. How could you not respect him or like him.”

Dick Broadbent was a visionary who helped breeders and owners, and, later, horseplayers, with ready access to vital and innovative statistical information. His launch of two of the industry's leading publications, Thoroughbred Times and Thoroughbred Daily News, was overshadowed by the creation of the Bloodstock Research database. His contributions to the industry were enormous and underappreciated.

Yes, he could be tough, unreasonable, and sometimes unfair. Richard Broadbent's sudden death on Monday night at the age of 73 caught many of us by surprise. I know I'm going to miss him.

Copyright © 2010, The Paulick Report

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  • rwwupl

    Ray,
    I never met Richard Broadbent, but from your description I think I know him, and feel like I missed out on a fine man…and wish I had met him. He made his mark.

  • Bill

    I worked for Mr. Broadbent from 1995 until 2007. I remember feeling like an adult who literally shrunk in my chair when I first interviewed with him (like the old shredded wheat commercials). He was certainly intimidating at times, but a great boss, and a truly wonderful person. He’ll be missed dearly by so many.

  • Susan

    I had the pleasure of doing business with Mr. Broadbent in the late 70’s, when my dad and I were buying broodmare prospects from the East Coast tracks. I was attending college in Ky and I had a horse that he was interested in. At the time, not knowing too many people in Kentucky, I thought I was meeting my first Kentucky “hardboot”. He had a huge presence about him. was knowledegable, fair, always the salesman, and above all entertaining. He bought the mare, and with my profits, I bought a car. He was happy with the mare, I was happy with the car. I always had the feeling that he enjoyed helping the younger generation, especially in the horse industry. Our paths never crossed again. My condolences to his family.

  • Lance Briggs

    Nice job on this obit.

  • Mike

    He was all that and more. Thanks for the memories.

  • Excellent piece, Ray. Broadbent could be a bullying hothead but was quite able to reverse himself. His influence on racing/sales/betting was enormous. A brilliant man.

  • Sue

    I met Dick Broadbent when I first went to Keeneland in the early 70’s for Dr. James Buell from California. Jim Buell admired his courage and intelligence, but I thought of him as an arrogant and abrasive individual. Many of the conservative farms then thought that a woman had no place managing a Thoroughbred farm, much less being in a breeding shed, but Broadbent treated me like everyone else. I respected that. I remember some of the established conservative breeders commenting that the man was “crazy” to put the data on a computer. Look where we are now…..

  • Mary

    Great piece. I never met Mr. Broadbent but wish i had. Your description of him reminds me of my own late father.

    I like the way you mix brutal honesty with deep respect and sentiment in your obituaries. I know from experiencing many close deaths in my life that this type of honest but heart felt send-off is deeply appreciated by his loved ones.

  • Ted Mudge

    About 12 years ago, I started doing business with Dick broadbent, when, as President of AmTote, he approached me about an odds feed for his website. Later, we helped him join forces with Charlie Ruma, to form what whould become AmericaTAB. Throughout our relationship, we never had a contract of any kind. Dick broadbent was a man of unquestioned integrity. When, after selling my interest in AmTote and spending an ill-fated 2 years with MEC, Dick asked me to come to Lexington to run BisBET, I jumped at the chance. I have spent my entire career selling and marketing in some form or another. Dick Broadbent taught me more in the year before he sold the company to Churchill, than I was able to learn in the previous 40. Insightful, to say the least. I had to laugh about your story of the ring banging on the window. You must have left before the installation of the dreaded intercom. So and so, “come to the conference room,” was almost a required part of the day. We all took a beating from time to time, but usually deserved it. What I cherish the most, though, are those wonderful times when we sat together in that room and just talked. It could have been about almost anything, mutual friends we had from Baltimore, horses, handicapping, business, and so much more. I can assure you, I always came away the better for those warm times. As he would say, “God bless.”

  • rickbarton

    Wow Ray that brings back memories- Fireworks in the late fall of 83…. In the Fall of ’83 Bunker Hunt engaged the services of Dick Broadbent, Bob Bricken, and Vic Heerman to consult on matings for the upcoming breeding season. We would meet at the BRIS offices on Saturday mornings. My role was “hey kid we need more coffee” but there were several stong personalities in the room on those saturday mornings.

    I think the most notable result of these meetings was Criminal Type (Alydar-Klepto). I’d like to claim credit for that idea, but I think I was gone to the kitchen to get some more 1/2 and 1/2 when Klepto came up. Condolances to Happy and all of the family-

  • Cheryl Hammelman Elam

    Great article. I worked for Dick from 1979 – 2000 — on and off a couple of times., but a total of 13 years. I loved him and respected him, but I would get so mad at him that I quit about 3 or 4 times. I always came back because I missed the way he ran his business and allowed people to be creative. He gave you a project and you got it done however you needed to. Mr. Broadbent was not a micro-manager unless of course, you messed up ! Then you heard about it ! He would yell at you (actually bellow through that intercom “Cheryl HammeRman come to my office) and then it was over, forgotten. I think he mispronounced my name on purpose just to get a kick out of it. He was brilliant, charasmatic, and a great man with a huge heart. Will miss him horribly. My sympathies to all of his children.

  • Georgann Conway

    I met Dick Broadbent at church and we talked alot about God and the prophetic. He gave me my first trip to Israel in 2004 and i was so greatful. He was such a humble man and he loved to watch the children worship. At around Christmas time one year i made scarves for a few people and i kept watching what color his coat was cause i wanted to make him one and when i gave it to him it made my heart full cause he thought it was the best. He had what i know to be a close relationship with God because there for 2 years he sent me the best fruitcake and he did not know that my dad use to give me those for Christmas before he died. I’ll never meet another man like him. I can just imagine God saying, Well done, good and faithful servant. Can’t wait to get there.

  • Corby Corbett

    I worked nearly 20 years for Dick at Bloodstock Research (starting in 1988). Dick was an incredible man, a brilliant businessman, and a trusted friend. Dick gave me the opportunity to use my passion for horses and handicapping to make a career. Dick was brutally honest… you always knew where you stood with him. He always put everything on the table. And, there was never any sugar-coating. Many viewed his style for communicating as intimidating or even rude, but I (and many others) learned to recognize that Dick was simply being honest. He always treated people in a manner that he would like to be treated … that is, with honesty. Dick was a man you could trust. Dick taught me a lot about business, horses, and life. “Corby, if you say you’re going to do something… then do it.” I am forever grateful to him. He was like a father to me and will be sorely missed. I know one thing… there’s a lot of work getting done in heaven. God Bless You, Dick.

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