One year from now, when The Blood-Horse
conducts its annual year in review, it's likely that Jan. 8 will stand out as one of the most important dates on the calendar. In fact, it could be one of the most critical days in the modern history of the Thoroughbred industry.
On that day, the 48 current members of the Breeders' Cup board of directors will choose from among their ranks 13 individuals to assume governance of the organization that runs racing's World Thoroughbred Championships and plays an integral leadership role for the entire industry.
Approved by the full Breeders' Cup board in November, the change in governance was a long time coming. Calls for reform gained momentum midway through 2005 when the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association's proposed Thoroughbred Championship Tour--a coordinated series of televised races--failed to gain traction with racetrack owners Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment or the Thoroughbred Owners of California, among others.
The board of directors and key executives of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the executive committee of the Breeders' Cup were blamed by a number of TCT backers for a perceived lack of support for the initiative. Their anger resonated among some nominators to the Breeders' Cup who feel there has been no accountability on how their funds are being used--particularly since Breeders' Cup and the NTRA merged operations Jan. 1, 2001.
Simply put, there is a concern among some Breeders' Cup board members that nominators' funds are being squandered by the NTRA, and that too much money is being spent putting racing on television. At the heart of the criticism is general mistrust that the NTRA is somehow controlled by the racetracks, which are having their way with the breeders' money.
The vote on Jan. 8 will determine how widespread that belief really is. The election of a new 13-member board will be contentious, for there clearly will be more than 13 candidates jockeying and politicking for positions.
The change in governance comes at a time of record prices for breeding and racing stock. Thoroughbreds sold at public auction in North America in 2005 grossed an all-time record $1,122,836,461. That is a 62% increase in dollars spent in the auction market since the $693,001,256 gross in 1997, the year the NTRA was proposed through a spirit of cooperation among industry leaders representing the Breeders' Cup, The Jockey Club, Keeneland, member tracks of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, and the National Thoroughbred Association.
The Breeders' Cup has some major challenges and opportunities ahead. Aligned with NBC Sports since the 1984 inaugural, 2006's championship shifts to ESPN, which aggressively pursued the Breeders' Cup and signed an eight-year contract. ESPN is the undisputed leader in sports broadcasting, and the agreement affords racing a tremendous opportunity.
International simulcasting, made possible by repeal of the 30% tax on foreign winnings (thanks to the NTRA's lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C.), provides more growth opportunities. Last fall, Breeders' Cup officials outlined an ambitious target for handle on the eight championship races--to $200 million by 2010, up from this year's $116 million. More immediate growth is planned for championship-day purses, from $14 million to $20 million.
Downsizing the board from an unwieldy 48 members to 13 will allow the newly elected directors to become more informed and involved, and for the group as a whole to be more efficient. That is especially true if those elected bring to the table a desire to work collaboratively and collegially and act with the welfare of the organization and the industry at heart.