Jess Jackson reaffirmed his passionate commitment to help clean up unscrupulous tactics in the sales and auction industry Nov. 3 as part of an all-star cast discussing issues in the "Thoroughbred Industry Forum 2006" at Churchill Downs.
Jackson, who made headlines in 2004 by filing a lawsuit against alleged fraudulent practitioners, and later successfully promoted Kentucky legislation dealing with dual agency laws, was part of about 20 panelists who spoke to an invitation-only crowd of about 100 on challenges facing the horse racing industry.
A successful businessman in the wine industry and owner of various farm, breeding and racing entities, Jackson told the forum that he still planned to push for new Kentucky legislation to license sales agents as a way to help weed out the few bad apples in the industry.
"We license blacksmiths, we license barbers, you license people in all kinds of industry so that there may be some punitive consequences enacted if needed," he said. "We don't have any enforcement in this industry, and we need to have something in place so that we can attract new owners."
Jackson noted that while many of his fellow panelists talked of needed changes in such avenues as marketing and technology, he stressed that "perception" of the industry also needed to be changed.
"There is a sub-culture of a very few that are polluting the industry," he said. "I've been at cocktail parties with former heads of (Fortune 500) companies, who asked me why I just didn't walk away. And they told me that they wouldn't come into the industry because they got burnt.
"Without new owners coming into the industry, there will be no way for it to continue to grow."
There is a belief that some prominent horsemen approached Jackson in the past about dropping both the lawsuit and his legislative crusade because of a perceived negative light it publicly casts on the industry. Without elaborating, Jackson told The Blood-Horse
in a post-forum interview that he had indeed been asked to tone things down.
"But I get more and more support about what I am doing – I get letters and telephone calls every day from people thanking me," he said. "This isn't about me, or anyone here (at the forum). It's about the little guy who can't afford to fight this type of thing in a lawsuit. And some of the people that will benefit the most are those that have a vested interest in this industry, but can't accept change. They need to be pushed."
Jackson, who is ranked No. 212 in Forbes magazine's "400 Richest Americans" list with an estimated net worth of $2.2 billion, also realizes that others with the wherewithal to pursue legal action may have decided against it because they would have to admit they had been taken advantage of – i.e., the embarrassment of a successful businessman getting scammed.
"I am going through this for my great love for horses," he said. "I'd rather be watching my horses and enjoying my retirement, but here I am a crusader for another change."
Another vocal participant was breeder and race owner Richard Klein, who asked for more transparent disclosure to the betting public.
"Wouldn't it be nice if a fast workout not published, equipment changes and sex altering changes (i.e., gelding of colts) were all made public and not known only by betting insiders?" he said.
He also took jockeys and jockey agents to task.
"What's more frustrating than to have a jockey quit riding when a horse passes them in the stretch?" he asked. "Owners, trainers and bettors need to have their interests protected."
Klein, a former bank executive who is part of a family partnership that has bred, raised or raced multiple graded stakes winners, also suggested that jockey agents be held to contractual obligations when committing their rider to a horse.
"What other industry tolerates something like we do when a rider is changed at the (post-position) draw?" he said. "How about something more than a vague statement (of commitment) like "You're covered." How about a signed contract?"
Later in the day, Klein was asked by The Blood-Horse
if the reneging of verbal jockey commitments had happened much to him.
"How many times do you want to know about?" he said.
The forum discussed a wide platform of issues, with each panelist tackling a specific topic, many of which dealt with re-packaging the sport of horse racing to attract younger people to the fan base through technology advances and fresh marketing strategies. Calls for unity were also heard, particularly through efforts of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
"In the past, we could never get around the same table," said Robert Clay of Three Chimneys Farm. "The NTRA has made the effort to get everyone together."
Owner/breeder W. Bruce Lunsford also carried the battle-cry for change, invoking the recent bankruptcy filing by the New York Racing Association as a warning.
"The horse industry has always been resistant to change," he said. "Look at NYRA. Had they embraced change, they probably wouldn't be in Chapter 11 today."
Other panelists included Churchill Downs executive and general counsel William C. Carstanjen, Youbet.com CEO Chuck Champion, Turfway Park president and CEO Robert Elliston, Ellis Park president and owner Ronald Geary, Betfair development director Christian Hellmers, Darley Stud president Jimmy Bell, WinStar chairman and co-owner Bill Casner, Lane's End Farm owner Bill Farish, Shadowlawn Farm owner Tracy Farmer, The Vinery general manager Tom Ludt, Keeneland president and CEO Nick Nicholson, University of Louisville basketball coach and horse owner Rick Pitino, and trainers Dale Romans, Al Stall Jr. and John Ward.