One of the most definitive and memorable evenings kicking off the fall season in Central Kentucky is the annual Thoroughbred Owners' and Breeders' Association Award dinner, which is now in its 21st year.
Taking home the biggest honors at the Sept. 9 event, which was hosted by Tom Simon's Vinery Farm near Lexington, were Charlotte Weber of Live Oak Plantation and Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps. While Weber won the title of owner of the year, Phipps was honored as the top breeder in the nation for 2006.
Phipps went out of his way to thank the farm workers, hot walkers, exercise riders, and others involved in smaller ways throughout the industry. "I'm here to accept this trophy on their behalf," he said. John Rasmussen accepted the award for Weber, who was unable to attend the dinner.
The event, which started with a parade of Vinery stallions and a cocktail hour began on a somber note. Retired Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day asked attendees to take a moment of silence to remember the victims that perished in the crash of Comair flight 5191 at Bluegrass Airport Aug. 27, several of whom were involved in the Thoroughbred industry.
Earlier that day, 24 state breeders and one Canadian had received awards for their individual accomplishments in each region. Phipps was also recognized as the top Eastern region owner of the year, while Weber was additionally honored as Southern region owner.
Other regional winners and finalists for the national owner honor were Iowa-based Maggi Moss (Midwest) and 2005 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winners Jerry and Ann Moss (Western).
Breeder of Afleet Alex, John Martin Silvertand, was the small breeder of the year, and Arizona native Michael Talla won the Greatest Game new owner of the year award.
"Afleet Alex's offspring will keep me going for a long time," said Silvertand, whose 9-year-old daughter fed the colt milk from a Coors Lite bottle as a foal.
"This is a wonderful industry with a tremendous future," said Youbet CEO Charles F. Champion. With Youbet.com as the first ever title sponsor of the TOBA event, Champion related how the company had been on the verge of bankruptcy when he entered his role a few years ago. The improvement of Youbet could be largely credited, he said, "to people sitting here today."
Bill Casner, the chairman of TOBA, had a contraption on his right arm to aid an injury he sustained during a pick-up basketball game at Saratoga Race Course, but there was nothing that hindered his enthusiasm for improving the industry. Presenting a brief speech, Casner addressed controversial topics such as Polytrack, steroids, and illegal wagering.
"The landscape of our industry is rapidly changing," he said. "We need to work together and utilize our strengths."
In reference to the top breeders and owners, he said: "Tonight, we recognize those internal optimists that have reached the mountain this year."
The Race Track Chaplaincy of America was the recipient of the Industry Service Award, which was also presented at the dinner.
The RTCA has served the horse racing industry since 1971 and fills the spiritual, emotional, physical, social, and educational needs of the industry's vast workforce. The RTCA oversees 74 chaplains at 113 tracks and training centers throughout the U.S., Canada, and South America.