Howard Battle, whose four decades in racing included stints as racing secretary at Keeneland and a host of other prestigious tracks, died July 14 at his Lexington home from complications from cancer. He was 71.
Battle was introduced to the racetrack at an early age. His father, H.H. (Pete) Battle, was a trainer and young Howard spent a number of summers at the racetrack. Battle also was attracted to art and graduated with a master degree in fine arts at Notre Dame University in 1958. Battle earlier served in the U.S. Army in Tokyo and worked for a Louisville advertising agency following his return. After a year, he decided to return to the racetrack for the summer and ended up at Detroit Race Course filling in for a racing official. He later resumed his advertising career and met his future wife, Daisy Beeler, while working in that profession.
Battle's heart, however, was in racing rather than advertising, and he and Daisy cast their lot in that direction. Battle became an assistant racing secretary, a position he held at Arlington, Hialeah, and Monmouth for the next five years. In 1967, he was back at DRC, this time as racing secretary. Since then, Battle presided in that position at eight different tracks, including Churchill and Saratoga as well as Keeneland. In conjunction with his racing duties, Battle served for a number of years on the Experimental Free Handicap committee.
Although the racetrack kept him busy, Battle also found time to paint. He painted a number of prominent runners, including Swale, One Dreamer, Risen Star, and Unbridled for their connections. Daisy Battle founded the firm Hoofprints to market his work.
Battle's racing expertise was used by The Blood-Horse when the magazine ranked the top 100 racehorses of the 20th Century. Man o' War was assigned the top spot by the seven-member panel. Last October, he and former Keeneland president Bill Greely were honored at the Thoroughbred Club of America's 70th annual testimonial dinner.
Of Battle's tenure at Keeneland, James E. Bassett III, Keeneland trustee and retired chairman of the board, said: "Howard Battle was one of the most respected and revered racing executives in the world. He was primarily responsible for restructuring and building the Keeneland racing program into one of the most competitive in the nation. His knowledge, experience and personal skills were reflected by his service on numerous international grading and selection committees, including the Breeders' Cup and classics in Hong Kong, Japan and Dubai. He will be fondly remembered by all who had the privilege and pleasure of knowing him."
Geoffrey Gibbs, chairman of the International Classifications Committee, on which Battle served, said: "A wonderful man whose loyal friendship I enjoyed for nearly 20 years, he was a racing secretary who epitomized all that is great in Thoroughbred racing and who was a tower of strength in helping, through the North American Rating Committee, the integration of North American horses into the International Classifications. We shall miss him greatly."
Nick Nicholson, Keeneland's President and CEO, said: "Through his intellect and creativity, Howard Battle was Thoroughbred racing's renaissance man. Largely responsible for developing Keeneland's racing program into a national leader, Howard was a treasured employee, a devoted family man, talented artist and an individual who commanded the respect of his peers throughout the Thoroughbred community worldwide. We will miss him deeply."
Former Keeneland President Bill Greely said: "Howard and I worked, played and raised our families together. He will be sorely missed by racing and by me. The industry has lost one of its top racing secretaries and I've lost my best friend."
Rogers Beasley, director of racing at Keeneland, said: "Howard Battle was one the great racing officials of the century. He influenced racing from the East Coast to the West Coast, from the racing programs he developed to the protégés he mentored. I would venture to say there is not a major racing program in the country that was not influenced by Howard."
Battle's survivors include his wife; a son, Glenn; and two daughters, Nancy and Terri, who works for the Breeders' Cup