Howard Battle always wanted to do things that would help Thoroughbred racing and breeding, whether it was in the grading of stakes, the rating and classification of horses from around the world, or instilling cooperation among tracks and fellow officials in the scheduling of major races. Battle lost a battle with cancer on July 14.
From the outset of the Breeders' Cup, Battle played a key role with the field selection committee panel of racing secretaries and directors and in helping determine which races around the country received additional stakes money.
His work with European racing official Geoffrey Gibbs and others helped bring together horses from around the globe through the International Classifications. That assessment of racing quality led to the creation earlier this year of the World Thoroughbred Rankings, which the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Breeders' Cup are using to help promote the international nature of the newly re-branded World Thoroughbred Championships. The rankings, updated weekly, list the top 10 horses for each division represented on Breeders' Cup Day.
As a member of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association's Graded Stakes Committee, Battle steered decisions clear of politics, focusing on the merits of individual races rather than where those races were run.
Like any racing official, Battle took pride in getting the best horses possible to compete in his track's races, whether it was at now defunct Detroit Race Course in Michigan, where he held his first post as racing secretary, or at Keeneland, where he worked nearly 30 years. As tracks became more competitive for horses and stakes schedules closely overlapped, Battle led a movement of cooperation among his peers to avoid conflicts.
John Hamilton, the former executive director of the TOBA now working in market development for Three Chimneys Farm, recalled the high road Battle always took during his years with the Graded Stakes Committee. "He was absolutely a purist as far as what was right and wrong and could not stand any political overtones creeping into the grading," Hamilton recalled. That philosophy was put to the test in 1989, when the committee examined statistics showing Keeneland's own Blue Grass Stakes--traditionally a major prep for the Kentucky Derby (gr. I)--no longer being worthy of its grade I status. "He voted to downgrade the Blue Grass," Hamilton recalled.
Of course, Battle also plotted the strategy to help the Blue Grass become a grade I event again, moving the date and recommending an increase in the purse. Those actions helped lead to the reinstatement of the Blue Grass to grade I.
That same resolve kept politics out of the Breeders' Cup field selection process. "He was very adamant on many different levels about taking a horse for what it's worth, and not looking at who saddles it or owns it," remembered Pam Blatz-Murff, senior vice president of Breeders' Cup operations. "We are going to miss him desperately. He's been a part of the Breeders' Cup since the beginning, and was always the one we counseled with."
Despite being the son of a trainer, Battle wasn't always going to be a racing man. He studied fine art at Notre Dame and tried to make a go of it painting horses and teaching. When he discovered teaching jobs were scarce, Battle found work at the track. But the artist in him never left. He resumed painting years later, and his work has been well received, with many owners and breeders giving him commissions to capture their horses on canvas.
The Indiana native traveled the world, often with wife Daisy, attending major races and international meetings. Their laughter could light up a room.
Battle will be missed, not only at the many racetracks where he worked and by the many younger officials he mentored. His reach extended around the racing world.