Funding the Future
by Ray Paulick
Date Posted: 7/6/2005 2:14:52 PM

Ray Paulick
Editor-in-Chief

Concern was expressed in this space June 21 that Kentucky's newly created breeders' incentive program could become a divisive issue, one that might sidetrack far more important initiatives down the road than the one that has earmarked an estimated $12 million in annual stud fee taxes for a breeders' fund.

Opinions on the incentive fund are divided into two camps. The first, which has the backing of officials from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club, favors spreading the $12-million fund among breeders of Kentucky-bred horses that win a race anywhere. Their rationale is that the fund is created by taxes on stud fees paid in part by breeders whose horses do not race in Kentucky, and that those people should be eligible for awards, regardless of where their horses compete. Backers of this plan admit the incentive would not be enormous--estimates are for a one-time payment of approximately $2,000 when a horse wins its first race.

The second camp, led by Brereton Jones, the former governor of Kentucky and chairman of the Kentucky Equine Education Project, believes a $2,000 check won't change anyone's behavior--that it is not enough money to convince someone to keep a mare in Kentucky that might otherwise be vanned out of state. Jones is calling for the funds to be available only to the breeders of horses that race in Kentucky. He believes those checks will be significant enough to convince some breeders to keep mares from fleeing to other state-bred programs while also strengthening a Kentucky racing industry that is losing horses to states with purses enriched by slot machines.

Jones, owner of Airdrie Stud, is not the only breeder who supports a Kentucky-only program. Hill 'n' Dale Farms owner John Sikura, a Canadian by birth and an independent thinker by nature, believes the Thoroughbred industry will lose stature in the Kentucky legislature if the incentive fund benefits other states. "The message of KEEP and of the economic impact of the industry as well as the threat from other states has been heard and understood by the legislature in Frankfort," Sikura said. "This money was given back by the legislators, who said, 'We accept your plight.' They recognize the importance of the industry."

Another point Sikura makes is that by supporting Kentucky racing, the incentive fund will benefit local horsemen and tracks, something that could have a residual effect. "These people are constituents," he said. "This would broaden the coalition among breeders, owners, and the tracks and their employees."

That will be critical if Kentucky's Thoroughbred industry expects further help from the legislature on slot machines.
The coalition would not exist were it not for KEEP, which managed to unite a fragmented Thoroughbred industry when it was created in May 2004.

KEEP has done more than foster unity within the horse industry. The organization has raised a significant amount of money to fund an educational outreach program throughout Kentucky and make the industry's lobbying efforts in the state capital reflect its size and scope.

By contrast, the KTA, which administers the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund, has done very little to educate Kentuckians or legislators about the importance of the horse industry. The KTA has not been well-funded for political activities and has not been effective in Frankfort. It did not enthusiastically support the creation of an incentive fund for breeders, and it seems a bit strange that the organization's leaders now insist on determining how that money should be distributed.

There is a popular expression suggesting that people or organizations should lead, follow, or get out of the way. It's time for the KTA to choose between the latter two options.

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