Talkin' Horses - Live Discussions

Dan Metzger President, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA)

Thursday February 7, 2008; Noon (ET)

Dan Metzger was appointed president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA) in July 1999. Based in Lexington, Ky., TOBA was formed in 1961 and is a national trade organization for Thoroughbred owners and breeders. TOBA's mission is to improve the economics, integrity and pleasure of the sport on behalf of Thoroughbred owners and breeders.

Through its management of the Sales Integrity Task Force, TOBA once again demonstrated its leadership in addressing key industry issues. Other TOBA programs include the American Graded Stakes Committee, Claiming Crown and The Racing Game, as well as its new owner seminars and breeding clinics. TOBA is also represented on the Board of Directors of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association as a founding member. The Blood-Horse is a publication of TOBA.

Metzger also represents TOBA on a number of industry committees and organizations, including the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, International Cataloguing Standards Committee, International Breeders Meeting, International Racehorse Owners Association, the American Horse Council and the Unwanted Horse Coalition. Metzger, a 1984 graduate of the University of Kentucky, previously worked at Breeders' Cup Limited and Cawood Ledford Productions.

Hot Springs AR:
I'm confused on the so-called pyramid used for grading stakes. In both the 2yo and 2yo filly divisions, there are more G1 races than G2 races. How is that justified?

Metzger:
The American Graded Stakes Committee uses the 20/30/50 pyramid as a guideline and not as a strict parameter because it recognizes that in the 2yo divisions and other smaller divisions a perfect pyramid may be hard to achieve. In such cases the committee ensures that the aggregate number of grade II and grade III races exceeds the number of grade I races in a division. The imbalance you point out is not lost on the committee and the members have been discussing this topic at recent meetings to try and develop a solution that does not include unwarranted upgrades or downgrades for the sake of achieving a perfect pyramid.

San Pedro, CA:
What did you think of Jack Van Berg's article in the NY POST that we are a joke in the worlds eye because of lack of cracking down on steroids?

Metzger:
We strongly endorse the regulation of anabolic steroids at the racetrack and therefore, the RCI model rule that was developed by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. TOBA applauds the racing commissions that have shown strong leadership in adopting the RCI model rule. The New York Post story certainly did not put Thoroughbred racing in a positive light. The United States and Canada are the only racing countries that allow the unregulated use of anabolic steroids in racehorses and the United States is finally on the way to joining the rest of the world.

Lexington, KY:
Dan, we have all seen the power and value of other major sports that have a commissioner with the NFL, NBA, MLB leading the way. Because of various state rules and regulations will horse racing ever be able to reach any kind of national accord and have a true commissioner?

Metzger:
The NTRA was established 10 years ago with a commissioner and unfortunately, based on its history, our sport will apparently not support a commissioner with strong centralized powers. Most racetracks and other racing entities are not willing to cede their authority over to any organization.
NTRA president Alex Waldrop and board chairman Bob Elliston are doing a fantastic job, but the scope of the organization has been narrowed. TOBA is a strong supporter of the NTRA and believes that its mission must be supported by the entire industry.

Lexington, KY:
Please explain why TOBA and the Sales Integrity Task Force will not require disclosure of conformation altering surgeries of horses at auction? Doesn't this decision hurt the integrity of the auction process, rather than help it?

Metzger:
Excellent question and one that is complex in its nature. The 2004 Sales Integrity Task Force recommended the disclosure of conformation-altering surgeries and the 2007 task force re-confirmed its support. We continue to work toward that goal, but first need to address all of the technological, legal, financial and political issues. Foremost of among those are developing a reporting process that will accurately capture all of the surgeries performed and which organization will take the legal and financial responsibility for maintaining the accuracy of a database that will be used at auctions around the country. Nevertheless, TOBA is continuing its efforts to have these surgeries disclosed.

Rancho Santa Fe, CA:
How often does TOBA's Sales Integrity Program's Monitoring Committee meet and what kind of reports have they sent to you or TOBA on their monitoring activities?

Metzger:
The TOBA Sales Integrity Program's Monitoring Committee has not been formalized yet, but rest assured that they will meet as often as needed and will keep accurate reports on and assess the effectiveness of the new policies and recommendations for public auctions.

Riudoso, NM:
Having held a trainer's license as well as being a breeder and owner, I have doubts at times on the local horsemen's group mostly made up of trainers representing themselves and the owners-how does your org. directly help racehorse owners?

Metzger:
TOBA represents owners and breeders, but it is not a recognized horsemen's group in individual states along the lines of the local horsemen's groups such as the HBPA, THA or TOC. TOBA, however, is the only national organization that represents the interests of owners and breeders. Our mission is to improve the economics, integrity and pleasure of the sport on behalf of owners and breeders. It was TOBA that re-ignited the drive toward medication reform in 2000 by calling a meeting of racing's leaders in Tucson and addressing many of the integrity issues that faced the sport. The following year, the AAEP conducted its summit in Tucson and both efforts led to the formation of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC). TOBA has financially supported the RMTC and the Equine Drug Research Institute, as integrity goes to the core of our mission. The American Graded Stakes Committee's drug testing protocol was criticized at the onset by many in the industry, but in retrospect, it made a courageous decision that has benefited the sport. TOBA has long committed valuable resources to other important industry initiatives such as The Racing Game and the TOBA New Owners Seminars, which are designed to attract new investors in the sport. Along with our partners in the Claiming Crown, we have created a viable racing event on the calendar for blue-collar horses. And just as importantly, we continue to represent the owners' viewpoint on critical economic issues, such as advanced deposit wagering (ADW). The TOBA board of trustees, which is chaired by Bill Casner, collectively possesses as much business expertise and experience that would benefit the industry as any organization in the sport.

Lexington, KY:
Dan, I know you stay in tune with the marketing side of the industry and seem to have good feel for how to best influence public perception. Do you feel that there is a correlation between the decline in fan interest (especially as it relates to 18-35 year olds) and the increase in catastrophic injuries to racehorses? If so, do you have any thought on how to address this issue? Thanks for your time in answering this and other questions!

Metzger:
Fair question and difficult one to answer. Public perception becomes reality in many cases and catastrophic injuries to racehorses are probably one of many reasons for the decline in fan interest. It's a tired old saying, but Thoroughbred racing has failed in building the fan base because it has not marketed the sport properly. A big part of that is due to the lack of cooperation between the controlling interests in the sport and the competitiveness between racetracks and other industry institutions. There have been many noble ideas and proposals that did not get an opportunity to succeed due to a lack of willingness to try new things. That's a shame, because our sport has so much going for it (wagering, tradition, excitement) and it can attract interest from mainstream America as demonstrated by the popularity of the Kentucky Derby. Unfortunately, after the Triple Crown races, the level of awareness drops considerably.

Bourton-on-the-Water, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, U.K.:
Please could you tell me what you feel is the best way of addressing the problem of medication in the U.S.A.? Please could you tell me what in your opinion is the best way of persuading owners to take more responsibility for their horses in the matter of finding them good homes when their racing careers are over? Is there any way of making sure hot walkers, work riders, grooms etc are adequately paid, housed and should they be injured looked after if injured in the line of their work? Do you think the size of a stallion's book of mares should be limited to say 70 to stop overproduction of racehorses? Thank you for taking the time to read these questions.

Metzger:
Lots of questions and I'll do my best to answer all of them. The racing medication problems are being addressed in the United States by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and the Racing Commissioners International. It's been slow at times, but we are seeing real progress on the medication front, both at the races and the sales. Through the American Horse Council and the Unwanted Horse Coalition, the industry has done a better job in educating owners about their responsibility with horses when their racing careers are over. TOBA has an alliance with Thoroughbred Charities of America, which funds around 150 charities every year, including many equine rescue and retirement organizations. The best way to address your concerns about backstretch help would be the adequate enforcement of federal and state labor laws and licensing requirements. To me, the free market should dictate the size of a stallion's book.

Paris, KY:
What are your greatest memories working with Cawood Ledford?

Metzger:
Working for Cawood Ledford was truly an unbelievable experience and a wonderful opportunity for a then 22-year-old recent college graduate. It was through Cawood that I really learned and fell in love with Thoroughbred racing. A book could be written on those 4+ years, but probably more than anything else, Cawood was the consummate professional, humble despite his celebrity status and caring about the people that worked with him. His preparation before basketball and football games was truly something to appreciate.
One great memory was the first game that I worked for Cawood. It was at the 1984 Hall of Fame Bowl game between Kentucky and Wisconsin. I was not aware that one of my responsibilities was to spot for Cawood in the radio booth (primary job is to identify the tackler on each play). I arrived at Legion Field in Birmingham and was ready to sit in my designated spot in the press box when Cawood asked if I was ready to come to the radio booth to spot for him. The press box was at the top of Legion Field and unfortunately for me, I did not have any binoculars. Talk about a rough way to break your maiden!

Sea Girt, NJ:
You've said prior, "We've always wanted a series--or a tour--to move the sport forward," do you think that Win and You're In is sufficient? Also, with the BC creating "Win and You're In" are you worried that the BC is encroaching on the AGSC and their ability to label stakes?

Metzger:
A racing series or tour leading up to racing's championship day, that has the proper context and competitive integrity, will move the sport forward. Breeders' Cup Limited has stated that 'Win and You're In' is a marketing program aimed at non-racing fans and hopefully they will be very successful in their efforts. Only time will tell if 'Win and You're In' broadens Thoroughbred racing's appeal to the general public. We're rooting for it to bring new fans to the racetrack or in front of their television screens. The sport desperately needs it. BCL's efforts do not affect the ability of the AGSC to grade races.

Louisville, KY:
Hello Dan, As a regular handicapper and as a former owner I believe the most pressing industry wide problem is the use of drugs. How do you think drugs can be eliminated from racing?

Metzger:
While it may be impractical to eliminate drugs from racing, the sport can certainly reduce its dependency on them. Obviously, like human athletes, a sick or injured horse needs medications to aid their recovery. But unfortunately, we have witnessed too many trainers relying on the veterinarians and medications to get their horses to the starting gate. We believe that in order to allow a horse to run on medication there must be scientifically supported data showing the medication is not performance-enhancing and does not create an equine or human welfare issue.

Fort Worth, TX:
What is the usual or average weight carried by horses in workouts?

Metzger:
Between 135-140 pounds. Fifteen years ago, the average weight was probably closer to 125 pounds.

Darien, CT:
I went to a new owners seminar in Saratoga, i learned a lot from the various speakers. I know you have other types of clinics for a novice like me, but they seem to be few and far between, or too far for me to get to. Do you plan on having more of these so new perspective owners like myself can take advantage of these very knowledgeable people? And is there any other advise you would give that would help get into and learn the business?

Metzger:
Thank you for attending our seminar and we are glad it was helpful. TOBA has scheduled a Pedigree and Conformation Clinic scheduled in Saratoga on Tuesday, August 5. Please visit www.toba.org for more information about our upcoming clinics and seminars. We try to schedule 3 ' 4 New Owners Seminars in various locations across the country each year. We also offer our three-day Breeding Clinic and a two-day Pedigree and Conformation Clinic in Lexington, Ky.

As for advice for new or prospective owners, we recommend that you take your time and do your homework. Educate yourself by visiting www.toba.org and read through our owner education section. Read the Blood-Horse, go to the track or sales pavilion and talk with other owners or trainers. One of TOBA's programs, The Racing Game, (www.theracinggame.com) is a great resource for those interested in getting into the game. The website offers helpful steps for ownership. One of the first steps we recommend is to define your objectives in a written business plan. When writing your business plan consider these questions: how much time and money can I allocate to Thoroughbred ownership? Do I want to participate as an individual or in a partnership? Where do I want to conduct my equine activities? What are my short-term and long term goals? Do I want a horse that is ready to race or would I prefer to train a young horse?

The Racing Game is also a referral service whereby we can match you with a Racing Game approved advisor based upon your indicated objectives. Simply go to the website and fill out the advisor request form and send it to our office.

Midway, KY:
What are the top three priorities for TOBA, and have these priorities changed over the last five years?

Metzger:
The TOBA Board of Trustees has listed the following priorities for the organization. The top priority was the broken economic model of the sport and how it affects owners. Specific areas include advanced deposit wagering and its impact on the industry. Owners have been on the sidelines far too long as the rest of the industry determines our financial future. Just as important as the economics are the integrity issues. These would include race-day medication, post-race testing and research. Integrity has been the guiding force behind TOBA for the last 10+ years. The final priority was to elevate the Thoroughbred Charities of America to a higher level and making it the United Way for Thoroughbred racing. Although the approach may differ, these priorities have remained steadfast for the last five years.

Ocala, FL:
What was the real reason the Thoroughbred Championship Tour failed? Was TOBA unable to raise the necessary money to get it off the ground?

Metzger:
The Thoroughbred Championship Tour was not successful due to the lack of cooperation from other owners' organizations and several racetracks. It had the necessary funding to launch successfully.

Pismo Beach, CA:
Thanks for your time with us. Trainers are in vets' hands when it comes to drug prescription and administration. Why only the trainer is responsible and fined when a horse tested positive for a pain killer given 10 days or so prior to race?

Metzger:
The trainer is responsible because of the absolute insurer rule in place in all racing jurisdictions. He or she is ultimately responsible for everything that happens to the horse. The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium has developed new penalty guidelines whereby the owner, veterinarian and horse may also be penalized depending on the circumstances. These new penalty guidelines are being adopted by racing commissions around the country.

Clayton, DE:
I was wondering what your view on steroid regulation is. My worry is that people are not going to geld colts as readily as they used to for fear that they will be at a disadvantage. Won't these horses be much harder to place after their racing careers are over? And won't even more unwanted horses be a further black-eye to racing?

Metzger:
Based upon the experiences in other countries where anabolic steroids have been banned, your concern has not come to fruition. It is my understanding that the ratio of colts to geldings is about the same as in this country and about the same as before the steroid regulation went into effect in other countries.

Miramar, FL:
The plight of unwanted and/or retiring racehorses has finally been brought to the attention of not only the thoroughbred industry but, to the American public as a whole. What steps are being taken by the TOBA to address this issue? I feel an automatic purse deduction of one-half percent of winnings should be made to benefit retired racehorses. Owners need to take responsibility for their horses and not rely completely on the valiant efforts of a number of retired racehorse enthusiasts.

Metzger:
TOBA is a founding member of the Unwanted Horse Coalition, which is part of the American Horse Council. We also partner with the Thoroughbred Charities of America and have raised millions of dollars for equine charity and rescue operations. Many owners such as former TOBA chairman Gary Biszantz, are serious about their responsibility for retired racehorses, but this is an issue that can't be easily solved. If the local horsemen's groups approve a purse deduction to benefit retired racehorses or if individual states fund those programs through uncashed tickets or breakage, that would help greatly.

Alameda, CA:
I would like to know if the TOBA is willing to advocate that a track's share of wagering "Breakage" be used to purchase diagnostic equipment (ultrasound, radiography, x-ray) for horses-in-training. They could be moved to whichever track was running.

Metzger:
To my knowledge, the vets already have their own portable digital radiograph and ultrasound machines.

Missoula, MT:
How would one go about getting an internship in the horse racing industry?

Metzger:
There is a program called the Kentucky Equine Management Internship Program (KEMI). The program is for college students interested in equine management. Part of the internship offers hands-on experience at a Central Kentucky horse farm. Please visit www.kemi.org for further information. There are other opportunities such as the Darley Flying Start Program and the Irish National Stud.

Springfield, PA:
Dan, do you think PA breeding program with the influx of gambling money can become a viable alternative for some breeders?

Metzger:
There is no question that Pennsylvania's breeding program has the potential to become another option for breeders. The gaming money will make the state more competitive, as the purse structure for Pennsylvania-breds will be very attractive to owners and breeders alike.

West Chester, PA:
In the spirit of Dan Liebman's Blood-Horse editorial memorializing conversations between Kent Hollingsworth and his alter ego Col. Elsworth, how would TOBA explain its different stances relative to banning anabolic steroids in graded stakes specifically, and all races in general?

Metzger:
TOBA does not have a different stance regarding anabolic steroids in graded stakes and all other races. The American Graded Stakes Committee, which is a part of TOBA, has jurisdiction over the 481 graded races in the United States, but it does not have the authority to mandate policy for non-graded stakes or overnight races. In addition, the American Graded Stakes Committee's drug testing protocol does not ban any medication. The protocol is designed to require the highest possible level of post-race testing within the confines of a state's current medication statutes, rules and policies.

Osceola, IA:
Why are American horses stuck or forced on running on steroids? European horses don't run on steroids and they seem much more durable and in my opinion better than American horses. It is an embarrassment to North American racing the debacle we are in over steroids.

Metzger:
The anabolic steroid debate has been raging for several years now in the United States and we believe that the adoption of the RCI model rule will happen in many states this year. Trainers are not forced to run their horses on steroids. I know of several active trainers who are in the Racing Hall of Fame who do not use anabolic steroids. As an industry, we sometimes lose sight of what is in the best interests of the horse, specifically its health and well-being. There has been abuse of anabolic steroids at the racetrack, but we believe that those days are numbered.

Hebron, KY:
Dan thanks for your time. With all the breeding of mares, are there any plans to help the so called unwanted horse? Retired 'injured 'or otherwise . I feel ''The approved mare program' is the best and only solution (at the breeding farms).

Metzger:
The American Horse Council has an Unwanted Horse Coalition, which addresses many of these issues. We have seen an increase in the number of equine rescue and retirement programs and that is a very positive sign for the industry. TOBA is a partner with the Thoroughbred Charities of America and we have raised millions of dollars for charities and these important programs. Most stallion managers approve all mares bred to their stallions, but in the case of the lower-priced stallions and mares, restricting their ability to breed would face a significant legal challenge.

Sunnyvale, CA:
It is very apparent that the current ADW battles for signals have negatively impacted handles at many tracks. What specifically can the TOBA do to help bring a resolution to these signal battles and do you believe the Triple Crown races will be available to all ADW's similar to the Breeders' Cup?

Metzger:
TOBA has spent considerable time and resources reviewing the ADW battles that have plagued our industry for the last several years. There are positive signs with the emergence of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group (THG), a coalition of the local horsemen's groups at the racetrack. TOBA tries to exert its influence, either as an organization or through our individual board members, but we are as frustrated with the current situation as anyone. Sometimes the ADW companies and the racetracks forget who owns the product ' the horse. Owners have long been left out of the decision-making process as it relates to the distribution and pricing of the product. The THG goals, as we understand them, are one step toward addressing that problem. Regarding your question about the availability of the Triple Crown races being available on all ADWs, we're hopeful, but wouldn't bet the farm on it. TOBA, along with the NHBPA, THA and TOC tried to mediate the standoff last year, but we were unsuccessful.

Arcadia, CA:
Considering horses make this sport and ownership provides thousands of jobs nationwide at farms and race tracks I do not understand why there are not any real tax benefits for owners such as write-offs of training expenses, etc. The write-offs available today are minimal at best and in reality there are none for the small time owner. Does your organization ever try to lobby congress for a change in the tax laws on behalf of horse owners?

Metzger:
Horse ownership is like any other business and thus should be handled in a business-like manner. Any and all expenses (including depreciation of the cost of horses) involved in the business of training, racing and breeding horses are deductible and any revenues received from horse activities would be recognized as income. Any net loss generated can be offset against other income and any net profit will be taxable income. One must be mindful of depreciation, passive loss and hobby loss rules and would be well advised to seek the advice of an equine tax professional on these matters. The tax professional will also be able to advise one of the appropriate types of legal entities for the horse operation. The same rules apply to small and large owners. The American Horse Council has two excellent publications that can assist the horse owner on the business and tax aspects of horse operations. One publication is Horse Owners and Breeders Tax Handbook, a 1000-page book which contains very detailed information about tax and business planning for horse operations. The second publication is a smaller booklet titled Tax Tips for Horse Owners which outlines the major tax issues involved with horse ownership.

TOBA supports the American Horse Council and the NTRA, as both organizations do a great service for the industry in Washington D.C. Due to their efforts, the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives recently passed legislation of interest to horse owners. The two chambers are expected to meet early this year to resolve the differences in their bills and prepare a final version. The two items of interest to horse owners are the capital gain holding period for horses would be reduced to one year from two years and a three-year depreciation period for racehorses, instead of the present three to seven year period.

Spearfish,SD:
I live in an area of the country where land, hay and help are relatively cheap and easy to come by...but then again, so are our races! However, ownership of a $2,500 claimer at the Brown County Fair still represents a better return (and more excitement) than owning the typical show horse purchased by so many "horse-crazy" people--my question is: What is the TOBA doing to attract those owners from the pleasure/show horse markets that may want to win the South Dakota Derby instead of the Kentucky Derby and operate on a slightly different investment level that touted by your "$100,000"+ plan of sole ownership?

Metzger:
The Racing Game, which is a partnership of Keeneland, TOBA and The Blood-Horse, Inc, actively pursues potential new Thoroughbred owners and has always felt that other horse breeds are a natural marketing target for Thoroughbred racing. We stress to everyone that the investment levels are different based on the geographical locations and the financial commitment by the prospective owner. There are multiple ways to enter Thoroughbred ownership, not only through sole ownership, but partnerships as well. We clearly recognize that not everyone has $100,000 or more to invest and winning the South Dakota Derby may be more realistic. Vibrant markets, both large and small, are a key to a healthy Thoroughbred industry.

Lexington KY:
Why are all the boards, committees and Associations of the older age groups? Yes in the last year or so one or two "younger " people have been nominated to some boards, but why is it that the younger people are never considered for these roles?

Metzger:
That is an excellent question, but one probably more reflective of the industry's demographics. Several years ago, we conducted a survey of new owners in the sport and the average age was 54 years old. In that same survey of owners, 3.2 percent were less than 35 years of age. In recent years, the TOBA board has welcomed 'younger' trustees such as Nadia Sanan Briggs, Case Clay, Michael Levy and Samantha Siegel. It's always dangerous for me to define 'younger,' but in this case, these board members certainly fit that description.

Palmyra, WI:
Thank you for taking our questions. I would like to get involved in a racehorse partnership. How should I educate myself so that I can make an informed decision when choosing a partnership group and which horse(s) to participate in?

Metzger:
TOBA, in partnership with Blood-Horse Publications and Keeneland, manages a program called The Racing Game, www.theracinggame.com. The Racing Game is designed to educate and assist new and prospective Thoroughbred owners. The Racing Game offers steps to ownership and a referral service to put you in touch with industry advisors. We recommend that you visit theracinggame.com and review our Steps to Ownership section. The Owner Education section of toba.org is also very helpful. You may also want to read industry publications such as the Blood-Horse and visit the track and talk to owners, trainers and local horseman. Prospective owners should create a business plan for their Thoroughbred business to clearly identify goals and objectives. Once this is complete, you need to submit an advisor request form available on theracinggame.com. We will match you with Racing Game approved advisors based upon your indicated objectives.

When selecting a partnership there are several factors to consider. We recommend that you review the partnership prospectus and meet with the managing partner. Additionally, you will want to consider the following questions: Who are the other partners? What type of business entity is used? How are the finances handled? How are the decisions made?

Overall, the goals of the partnership should be consistent with your philosophies and expectations and the financial requirements must be within your budget.

LAST UPDATED: 1:06 P.M. (ET)

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