Frank Stronach of Adena Springs and Eugene and Laura Melnyk were the big winners during the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association's national awards dinner Friday night at the Kentucky Horse Park near Lexington.
Stronach was honored as the national breeder of the year, and the Melnyks were recognized as the national owners of the year.
"As owners and breeders, we walk through a lot of valleys trying to get to the peaks," said Jack Brothers, who accepted the breeder's award on the behalf of Stronach, who was unable to attend the dinner. "We are fortunate enough that we're at one of those peaks. It's very special, and we really cherish the moment."
Said Melnyk:: "I don't have a speech or anything, because they don't tell you in advance that you are going to get this prestigious award ... I want to thank all the people at TOBA for making this one of the most memorable evenings for us in our time in the horse racing industry."
The Melnyks, who live in Barbados, but own Winding Oaks Farm in Florida, also were honored as the Eastern regional breeders of the year. Other regional winners and finalists for the national owner honor were David and Patricia Block of Illinois-based Team Block (Midwest), Californians Mace and Samantha Siegel of Jay Em Ess Stable (Western), and Kentucky farm owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey (Southern).
Margaret Squires of Canada was the small breeder of the year, and Kentucky farm owner Frank Gardner won the Greatest Game new owner of the year award.
Bill Casner, the chairman of TOBA, told the crowd that racing is not being marketed effectively and called for unity in the industry to correct the problem.
"Expanded gaming has allowed some states to revitalize their programs, but this is not the ultimate solution," Casner said. "The fan base is shrinking in most areas; handle has been flat. Part of the reason for this has been because of leakage from offshore. TV ratings have declined. We have to learn from the models of the other sports entities that have been successful: NASCAR, the NBA, the NFL, major league baseball, World Championship Poker. We have to learn to market our product better.
"Our industry still has many challenges. Solutions can only be achieved by everyone uniting in that effort. I am extremely optimistic about our ability to deal with these challenges. We can only do it with unification. TOBA is an organization that gives owners and breeders a voice and, collectively, we can be a great influence."
Casner also encouraged the dinner's attendees to donate money to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. TOBA collected funds at the dinner.