Fifty years ago this month, a court case involving the denial of an owner's license to legendary gambler Jule Fink led to The Jockey Club being stripped of its power as the ruling body for New York racing. A decision by the New York Court of Appeals said it was unconstitutional for a private corporation to hold licensing powers. After the ruling, the New York legislature hastily passed a law giving such authority to a state racing commission.
While the decision was a major setback to The Jockey Club, the organization hasn't exactly disappeared in the ensuing 50 years. As the keeper of the Stud Book, The Jockey Club is responsible for verification of parentage and registration for all North American Thoroughbred foals, and it has played a leadership role on several industry fronts. Among other things, The Jockey Club funded the start-up of Equibase, the industry's official data collector; it supports equine research through the Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation; and it was a founding member and financial supporter of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
Similarly, the American Quarter Horse Association is the registry for what is America's largest breed of horses. The AQHA is also the marketing and promotional branch for the breed, and it provides services to its members in hopes of expanding the popularity of Quarter Horse ownership. The AQHA also supports equine research and works closely with The Jockey Club in a number of areas, including the collection and distribution of data.
Membership to The Jockey Club is by invitation only, and its rules and decisions are made by a handful of its 100-plus members behind closed doors. The AQHA has 331,000 members, though it describes membership as "a privilege, not a right," and is governed on democratic principles.
The registration rules of The Jockey Club and AQHA are not identical. For example, artificial insemination and embryo transfers are permitted in the Quarter Horse breed, while The Jockey Club requires natural covers by a stallion and does not allow foals born through embryo transfers to be registered as Thoroughbreds. Whatever their differences, the two organizations have a common responsibility: they have been entrusted to maintain the credibility of a breed of horses.
A recent legal challenge by a group of Quarter Horse breeders could weaken the AQHA's ability to enforce its rules and regulations, and it's conceivable an adverse court ruling eventually may impact The Jockey Club and other breed registries.
The case involves mares that have produced more than one foal per year through embryo transplants. Currently, if a mare is credited with producing more than one foal per year, the AQHA will allow only one of the foals to be registered. A lawsuit, filed last year in the 251st District Court in Potter County, Texas, claims, among other things, that AQHA Rule 212, which restricts each mare to one registered offspring per year, is a violation of the Texas Free Enterprise and Antitrust Act of 1983. The plaintiffs allege the rule has an adverse impact on competition among breeders by limiting the number of registered foals.
Judge Patrick Pirtle agreed. In an interlocutory (intermediate) decision made in December, Pirtle said AQHA Rule 212 "is a restraint of trade that has an adverse effect upon competition and is, therefore, anti-competitive."
Attorney D. Barry Stone, representing the AQHA, contends the plaintiffs failed to show any evidence of anti-trust violations in the AQHA's regulations. He cannot appeal an interlocutory decision, but said he will take the case to an appellate court as soon as the judgment is final. "It's a long way from being over," Stone said.
Meanwhile, the AQHA's brothers in arms at The Jockey Club are following this case with interest.