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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