No Laughing Matter
by Ray Paulick
Date Posted: 3/16/2004 8:10:24 AM

Ray Paulick
Editor-in-Chief

This note to Kentucky legislators: Friends Lake, winner of the $1-million Florida Derby (gr. I) March 13, was foaled in New York, the same state that produced Funny Cide, winner of last year's Kentucky Derby (gr. I).

A.P. Indy, the sire of Friends Lake, stands at stud in Kentucky, as does Distorted Humor  , Funny Cide's sire. But Mary and Chester Broman, who bred and own the Florida Derby winner, took advantage of the New York breeders' awards program and had Antespend, the colt's dam, relocated to the Empire State to deliver her foal. That's the same scenario that led to Funny Cide being foaled in New York after his dam was impregnated in Kentucky.

Kentucky has no such breeders' awards program, in part because the horse industry has maintained a low profile in Frankfort, the state capital. In fact, it can be argued that New York's breeding industry has a higher profile in its capital, Albany, than Kentucky's does in Frankfort.

That needs to change, and quickly. Another legislative session will pass with Kentucky's horse industry losing more ground to other racing and breeding states. A flawed proposal for casino wagering at racetracks and other sites died a very public death, when its sponsor, Louisville Democrat Larry Clark, called the racetracks "greedy." Not good for public relations.

The fact the horse industry had to rely on Clark's bill is evidence of how low its profile is. Asked if the industry had become a laughingstock in Frankfort, one legislative insider said, "In order to be a laughingstock, people first have to take stock of you. That hasn't happened."

What has happened is appalling. The horse industry, the No. 1 agricultural business in the state, continues to have its legislative agenda hijacked by the racetracks. Reading reports in the state's two biggest newspapers, Louisville's Courier-Journal and Lexington's Herald-Leader, you would think there is no horse industry, just a racetrack industry. The horse industry, the one that purports to represent owners and breeders, has no voice, or one so meager it is drowned out by the better-funded, better-organized racetracks.

Who is to blame? Certainly not the tracks, whose lobbyists and representatives are only looking out for their own best interests. Here's a clue as to the real culprit for the Kentucky horse industry's impotence in Frankfort: if you live in Kentucky and either own, breed, train, or make your living in the horse industry, step in front of the nearest mirror.

Don't blink: it's you.

DISCOMFORTING WORDS
MI Developments, a real estate spinoff of Magna International that owns roughly 60% of racetrack company Magna Entertainment, has a new chief executive: Brian Tobin, the former premier of Newfoundland. Tobin was named to the post in early March after his predecessor lasted six months in the job.

In a conference call with analysts March 9, Tobin made comments that should send a shudder through the racing community. "We believe that MID's real estate business and Magna Entertainment are a natural fit due to MEC's highly attractive underlying real estate assets," Tobin said. "MEC's assets include under-utilized excess lands in some of the premier real estate markets in the United States. They are prime locations for premium retail, entertainment, and/or residential development."

There has been a fear among many in racing that some of the company's holdings, including Santa Anita Park and Gulfstream Park--two of the sport's premier venues--will be looked upon solely as real estate properties if the racing business continues to spiral downward.

Let's hope that isn't the case, that Tobin was referring to real estate assets not integral to the operation of live racing. But Magna is developing a track record that instills very little confidence. Tobin's comments were not comforting.

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