Some unsolicited advice for Cot Campbell, chairman of the Sales Integrity Task Force: Get an unlisted telephone number.
Campbell's stewardship of this most difficult issue was inspiring, and his phone soon should be ringing off the hook with inquiries and job offers from scores of failed committees, task forces, and do-nothing organizations within the Thoroughbred world and beyond.
The master of Dogwood Stable did the impossible. He herded cats, and did so in world-record time.
The Sales Integrity Task Force was formed by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association in August and held its first meeting, with Campbell as chairman, in early September. Buyers, consignors, sale companies, and the veterinary profession were represented, and there was widespread skepticism that any concrete results could emerge. Three committees--covering disclosure, veterinary issues, and dual agency commissions--were formed and given specific assignments by Campbell, who wanted to wrap things up after one additional meeting in October.
Turns out that was wishful thinking. It took a third meeting in mid-November before the task force discussions could be boiled down to a four-page code of ethics
and three forms: an agent disclosure model agreement
, a dual agency form
for veterinarians who are also sellers, and a disclosure form
for specific surgical procedures.
Compare that to the decades-long effort to pass uniform medication rules in various racing states or the even longer campaign seeking uniform licensing. Put Campbell in charge of Amtrak and the trains will run on time. Send him in to arbitrate the impasse between the National Hockey League and its players association and he'll put a sign on his desk that "the puck stops here."
Reformers never believe reform goes far enough, and I wish the Sales Integrity Task Force had come up with a way to enforce the new code of ethics and penalize known violators. Campbell and the other 21 members of the task force have taken the reforms as far as they deemed necessary, and they did live up to the mission, stated by Campbell after their initial meeting in September, of "making American public auctions more buyer-friendly."
Satish Sanan, the Florida-based owner and breeder whose Alliance for Industry Reform pressured the industry for change, would like to have seen complete disclosure of both buyers and sellers in the auction market. But Sanan, who will serve on TOBA's code of ethics monitoring committee with chairman Reynolds Bell Jr. and Fred Seitz, said he is "80-90%" satisfied with the results of the task force's work.
Few people have been willing to speak up when they feel they have been cheated in the auction market; some of them quietly disappear from the scene with bitter memories of their involvement as a Thoroughbred owner. Sanan was disillusioned but not deterred by allegedly unethical or fraudulent behavior he experienced because he looks at his family's Padua Stables as a long-term industry player. He felt compelled to help bring the Thoroughbred auction market more in line with the ethics and practices of other industries. For that, Sanan deserves high praise, and not just from the buyers the reforms are meant to protect.
The work of the task force is not over. As Sanan said, "The proof of the pudding will be the implementation."
With no empowerment to enforce the code of ethics, TOBA will be relegated to an educational and advisory role. That makes perfect sense, since one of TOBA's primary missions is to recruit and educate new owners.
Hopefully, these reforms will level the playing field and give owners, new and experienced, a fairer shake in the auction ring.