Commentary: Surfers and Sellers
Photo: Lee Thomas
Evan I. Hammonds
Managing Editor

While out for a run on an early September afternoon in the Kentucky heat, my senses were hit by a huge wave. No, it wasn’t exhaustion; that came later. What hit me was an old, familiar smell, at least if one happened to grow up in Central Kentucky.

The powerful scent was of freshly cut tobacco that had been put up in the barn to cure. It is an unmistakable odor long since burned into my olfactory memory bank from my college days housing tobacco at Bill and Ruth Hall’s farm near Cynthiana. It was hard work on those last weekends of summer, but we got paid in cash at the end of the day. Sunday supper was Norman Rockwell Americana.

There was a time when tobacco was king in Kentucky. In the 1990s, revenue from the sale of tobacco in the state topped $900 million. Health-conscious Americans, prodded by federal, state, and local government legislation, have cut demand dramatically. Three years ago, tobacco accounted for only about $430 million in revenue.

Far and away the Bluegrass State’s top cash crop now is Thoroughbreds. The University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture put the state’s farm receipts for horses atop the leader board at $800 million by 2003.

Last year’s Keeneland September yearling sale alone grossed nearly $400 million. We’ll know the results of this year’s auction when the 15-day sale ends Sept. 25.

One thing we should already know about next year’s round of yearling sales is that there will be changes to the conditions of sale. The Sales Integrity Task Force has until the end of the year to come up with recommendations to the Kentucky legislature to address several issues involving the sale of horses in the Bluegrass State.

Ownership disclosure, medical disclosure, and agent licensing are the three main issues to be addressed by the task force.

A separate policy on the use of steroids in sale horses may also be in the pipeline from the state’s two sale companies.

A quarterly update from the task force to the House Licensing and Occupational Committee was scheduled for Sept. 13.

The Sales Integrity Task Force, originally formed in 2004, was re-tooled as a compromise to HB 388, which was co-sponsored by Rep. Larry Clark. The bill was tabled in February to allow “principals taking stands on both sides of the key issues to work toward an industry-wide consensus.”

To this point, if the task force can come up with stringent, strong, and effective enough rules and guidelines, then the Thoroughbred industry has an opportunity for self-regulation. If it fails to do so, state legislators, such as Clark, have vowed to deal with it in the state legislature in Frankfort.

Who among us would favor government intervention?

When I was past the days of housing tobacco, and nearing graduation, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a popular teen film. In one of the movie’s last scenes, the surfer dude/stoner character, Jeff Spicoli (played by Academy Award-winner Sean Penn), is visited at home by Mr. Hand, his history teacher. Hand has come to make up for the time Spicoli wasted in his classroom, and wants to finish the class work on the American Revolution on “his time.” Hand brings with him a couple of texts.

In the scene, Spicoli is heard explaining to Hand: “What Jefferson was saying was, ‘Hey, we left this England place because it was bogus. If we don’t get some cool rules ourselves—pronto—then we’ll just be bogus, too.’ ”

“Very close, Jeff,” his teacher says, closing his book and allowing the student to head off to the graduation party.

Surfers know between cool rules and being bogus.

Those inside the Thoroughbred industry should know too…and need to come up with some cool rules of their own—pronto.

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