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Damon Thayer Kentucky State Senator

Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 10 a.m. (ET)

A first-time breeder expecting his first foal around March 1, Republican State Senator Damon Thayer lives in Georgetown, where he has represented a district northeast of Lexington that includes Scott, Owen, Grant and southern Kenton counties since 2003.

A member of legislative committees that include  Transportation Licensing and Occupations and Agriculture and Natural Resources, Sen. Thayer is chairman of the subcommittee on Horse Farming and chairman of the Senate, State and Local Government Committee.

A 1989 graduate of Michigan State University, Thayer has worked at racetracks in Michigan, Ohio, and Maryland, coordinated media efforts for the 1992 Preakness Stakes, served as Director of Communications at Turfway Park and in a variety of capacities with Breeders' Cup, Ltd. where he now oversees all host track operations for Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

Frankfort, KY:
Do you feel pressured to be the horse industry’s point man in the legislature on bills that could benefit the industry? Also, how do you balance legislation that is beneficial to the horses against what is best for the public at large, when those two conflict?

Thayer:
The Kentucky General Assembly is a part-time citizen legislature where individuals with various backgrounds bring their expertise to Frankfort. We have doctors, lawyers, dentists, small business owners, airline pilots, working Moms, retired teachers and school administrators, farmers, coal industry officials, etc. I happen to have 22 years of experience in the horse industry and gladly accept responsibility to be the point man, as you say, on issues affecting it . The horse industry is now Kentucky's top agribusiness product (cattle, poultry and tobacco are next) supporting over 50,000 jobs with billions of dollars of economic impact. Working to insure that the horse industry remains vibrant in Kentucky is in the public interest.

Chicago, IL:
Thank you for adding a second day of BC racing. I do not know what all of the fuss is about from detractors. And now for a question; Can legislation somehow be used to get racetracks and the industry in general more on the same page? A good example of a cohesive product is the NFL and a lot of people share in the tremendous wealth that sport produces. I'll leave it at that. Thanks so much for your time.

Thayer:
I think it would be difficult to legislate cooperation. The NFL is held together because team owners feel that collectively they can accomplish more together than separately. In the horse industry, we are seeing more cooperation than ever before, both at the national level with the efforts of the NTRA and here in Kentucky as well.

Lexington, KY:
First before I ask my question, let me thank you for being the driver behind the funding mechanism for the breeder incentive legislation along with Governor Fletcher. If we are the Horse Capital of the World and according to my source at Keeneland, 30% of our yearling crop is exported out of the US, why is the fund not based on the world market?

Thayer:
Thank you for your comment, the Kentucky Breeder Incentive Fund is one of my proudest legislative accomplishments. Governor Fletcher certainly deserves much credit for agreeing to include it in his 2005 Tax Modernization Plan, and I thank him for that. As for the fund split: 70% of Kentucky-breds never race here. We are a major international exporter of bloodstock. After the General Assembly funded the breeder incentive with $12 million annually for Thoroughbreds, it became the responsibility of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority to decide how the fund would work in terms of award distribution. I, along with the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club, felt that the funds should be tied to the 70/30 split i.e. 70% of the breeder awards based on the results of races run outside of Kentucky and 30% based on Kentucky races. Most breeders (although not all of them) sell their horses to others who then race them, so they lose control over where their horses race once they are sold. The KEEP Board took the position that 100% of the money should be tied to races run in Kentucky, which would have left 70% of Kentucky-breds with no means to earn an incentive for their breeders. Ultimately, a 50/50 compromise was crafted, but only for races run in the United States. There is no component for Kentucky-breds who run in Canada or Europe, for example. If the fund works and attracts more breeders to Kentucky, who then in turn pay more sales tax on stud fees, thereby increasing the money available in the fund, there are regulations in place which will expand the program to other countries. Although I still prefer a 70/30 split to accurately reflect the marketplace, I feel the compromise plan is a good one.

Louisville, KY:
With the rising costs of worker's comp insurance for trainers, what could be done to ensure the smaller stables from going out of business? Also, is it possible through legislation, for racetracks to withhold purse winnings for the trainers as is done for the jockeys? Many times a trainer must wait a month or more to receive that compensation.

Thayer:
That is a good question, as I know that trainers have very high operating costs and workers comp costs are a big part of that. That is a big issue for many employers, not just those in the horse business. As for your purse earnings, that would probably have to be done via regulation or perhaps through the tracks as the horsemen's bookkeeper works for them. That is the first time I have heard that suggestion, and I can certainly see why you have a valid point.

Louisville, KY:
With the recent suspensions of leading trainers, could the resolution be to address the drug issue with pre-race testing similar to that of Hong Kong? This could insure the integrity of the game to the bettors knowing that steps are being taken before the outcome of a race.

Thayer:
Medication and testing will continue to be big issues in this country moving forward. Governor Fletcher appointed me to the Equine Drug Research Council, and we recommended changes, now implemented by the Horse Racing Authority, that follow the Racing and Medication Testing Consortium recommendations for national uniformity. This is a positive step to protect racing's integrity and give bettors further confidence when wagering on Kentucky races. Whether or not pre-race testing catches on in this country remains to be seen, but it would not surprise me if it is considered at some point.

Oklahoma City, OK:
Do you feel that an outside governing body should be investigating current problems with medication issues or should the racing industry continue to govern themselves as in the past?

Thayer:
Racing isn't really self-regulated or self-governed, as a matter of fact it is quite heavily regulated at the state level and as long as regulators have the tools and resources to do the job correctly I think it is in the public interest for it to continue this way.

Midway, KY:
What is the status of the Kentucky breeders incentive fund. Have any checks been written, how much is currently in the fund. Will the list of breeders that have or will have received awards be listed to the public. Are there any plans for this to be reviewed and/or tweaked?

Thayer:
I am told by the KHRA that notices will be mailed mid-month informing breeders of the dollar amount they earned in 2006, with checks to follow shortly thereafter. There is approximately $12 million annually available for Thoroughbreds. Yes, I believe the list will be public information. This will be the first distribution of funds since it was created in 2005. As I mentioned earlier, there are contingencies to expand the earning ability of KY-breds if the Fund grows. I hope you earn a big check!!

Paris, KY:
Please comment on the recent negative auditors report on the KY Horse Racing Authority and is anything going to be done about it.

Thayer:
It revealed what many have suspected for a long time: The KHRA is under funded in its effort to ensure the integrity of racing. We need to fully fund drug testing (currently paid for by the tracks) at the KHRA, hire more veterinarians and investigators, and make sure the KHRA has the necessary staff and resources to do its job. We are currently working on a bill to address this situation. I hope we can build support for its passage, since it addresses many of the items in the Audit.

Owensboro, KY:
As an animal lover myself and a current veterinary student, what is being done to bring future practitioners back to Kentucky to practice vet medicine in those areas of Kentucky that are underserved. Particularly those areas without large animal practitioners.

Thayer:
We have the same issue with medical doctors! But that is a topic for a different forum.

While we do not have a vet school in Kentucky, the University of Kentucky has a pre-vet program with an agreement for a certain number of slots for Kentucky students to attend the vet school at Auburn University in Alabama. These slots are subsidized by the General Assembly (therefore the taxpayers) when we pass the state budget every two years to insure that we help meet the demand for veterinarians in the Commonwealth.

I am happy to hear that you are pursuing this career path and I wish you the best of luck!!!

Murfreesboro, TN:
How can we make the Kentucky Derby better and better each and every year?

Thayer:
I think the staff and management of Churchill Downs are doing a great job in growing the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks and indeed all of Derby Week. As a proud Kentuckian it is one of my favorite times of the year.

New York, NY:
Hi, Senator: I remember reading somewhere about a Breeder's Incentive Program, or something similarly named. Whatever happened to that concept? Mr. Manhattan

Thayer:
See above for a detailed explanation! We have to keep up with that vigorous state bred program in New York!!

Olive Hill, KY:
Mr. Thayer, What are your thoughts on expanding the Breeders’ Cup card? I feel it will lessen the quality of the races by creating spots for lesser horses. Sometimes more is not better. This has been the greatest day in racing, far better than derby day.

Thayer:
The Breeders' Cup Board feels that there are other divisions that deserve a place in the Breeders' Cup starting gate. As you know we have expanded to two days with three new races this year on Breeders' Cup Friday. If the Board feels that the event can continue to be expanded to increase the popularity of horse racing and improve the economics of the industry for the breeders who fund the program, further expansion could be considered.

Others have expressed your concern, but we believe that the racing will continue to be world class. We'll find out in October at Monmouth Park!!

Jacksonville, FL:
Will the death of Barbaro have a negative impact on horse racing or do you think there has been some good that's come out of the efforts made to save him?

Thayer:
I think that those who are against racing will continue be against racing. (Did you see the PETA spokesperson on Larry King the other night?) But I do think that this episode has shown a side to our sport that few people understood: that we are a compassionate lot who care deeply for these horses and that advances in veterinary medicine and technology have made it possible to give horses with massive injuries a chance at survival.

I think, in terms of new public opinion, while there is certainly some negative and some positive, it is more likely a pivot point to move forward, with more people (and, notably, more media) knowledgeable about horses and horse racing, the ups and downs, the noble nature and fragility of these animals that many have dedicated themselves to in various ways.

I have the 2006 Derby recorded on my DVR, so I watched it last night so I could once again see Barbaro in all his glory and remember him as the terrific athlete he was. But he will probably be remembered more for his courage over the last eight months than for those awesome two minutes on the first Saturday in May.

Bellmore, NY:
What would you consider your greatest achievement in life?

Thayer:
Without a doubt the birth of our two children, Daniel (9) and Katie (5).

Berryville, VA:
Senator Thayer, Given all of the controversy concerning the use of steroids in sales yearlings, don't you think it would be better to have the sales companies develop a "testing on request" system rather then asking the Horse Authority to spend it's precious time and resources testing these horses which have not yet come under their authority?

Thayer:
Yes. Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton should be lauded for taking a proactive approach to this matter. As I mentioned the KHRA's focus should be protecting the integrity of RACING, where wagers are being accepted on the product. I think the SALES portion of our industry can be self-regulated.

Georgetown, KY:
I understand that you were instrumental in getting some government financial assistance for the North American Racing Academy. DO you see that program growing and becoming a benefit to the racing industry

Thayer:
The General Assembly put $300,000 in the state budget last year to help the Kentucky Community and Technical College System with start-up funding for NARA. (And yes, it was a request that I made but was greatly helped by the presence of NARA Director and Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron, who I introduced on the floor of the state Senate!)

Until NARA, the USA was the only major racing country without a jockey school. I DO see this program growing as not only a jockey school, but also a program to train workers for many other careers in the horse industry. It will be a huge benefit to the racing industry, and I will continue to support it. A properly trained workforce, whether with technical skills to manufacture Toyota Camrys (a plug there for the Toyota plant in my district!) or a labor force for the horse business, is critical for Kentucky to remain competitive in the global economy.

Newark, DE:
Congratulations on breeding your first foal. What are its bloodlines, and do you have more foals due this year?

Thayer:
My first foal is due March 1. I have a Spectacular Bid broodmare. As you know The Bid was "the greatest horse to ever look through a bridle" and a decent broodmare sire. My mare is in foal to Doneraile Court, a fine son of Seattle Slew. I am currently stallion shopping and have not decided on her next mate, but I have narrowed it down to a few that cross well with her bloodlines. Wish me luck in the whole foaling process, my wife and I are almost as nervous about it as we were when our kids were born. :-)

Lexington, KY:
Will the fact a few high-level officials left or are leaving the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority have any impact on this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Monmouth Park?

Thayer:
It will not. There is a great core team at Monmouth Park to work with our experienced Breeders’ Cup team and we will also have the help of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which operates Monmouth, the Meadowlands, Giants Stadium and the Continental Airlines Arena among other venues. They are among the foremost sports event operators in the country. They once hosted The Pope, so I know they can handle the Breeders’ Cup World Championships!!!

Nebo, KY:
Sen. Thayer, The racetracks here in Kentucky need relief. They need slots and or all game casino. What can we expect from Frankfort this year? Darrell Nugent

Thayer:
I do not see much sentiment for expanded casino-style gaming in the General Assembly this year.

Lexington, KY:
What are the chances for passage of alternative gaming legislation after the gubernatorial election this year?

Thayer:
Difficult to predict until after the election!!!!

Louisville, KY:
I have heard you were opposed to recent legislation in KY that would have provided workers compensation for jockeys. Is that true? and if so, why? and what other options are available to secure insurance for such a high risk group so vital to our industry? JG

Thayer:
There are many concerns in the General Assembly about extending workers comp benefits to independent contractors. If it is done for jockeys there is concern about it setting a precedent for all other contractors. As for the jockey-specific bill, if it had followed the recommendations of the Jockeys Workers Comp Task Force it would have had a better chance of passage.

Memphis, TN:
Since the funds are raised on the stud fee tax why was the year round residency requirement place in effect for the thoroughbreds only, and not the other breeds in the new KEEP program?

Thayer:
Each breed is a little different and the KHRA worked with 12 of them to try to meet their needs. The year-round residency requirement for Thoroughbred mares bred in KY was seen as a way to increase the boarding of mares here to help the small to medium-size boarding operations that are the backbone of the industry and as a way to show how the breeder incentive could improve the economy here. The year-round boarding of mares in KY creates a tremendous amount of trickle down (yes I am a fan of Ronald Reagan) economic benefits.

Lexington, KY:
Please speak a little on the equine industry as it relates to economic impact for the state, as well as tourism dollars the State of Kentucky shares with all 120 counties in Kentucky. Not only the Derby, the Breeder's Cup when in Ky, but the tourism that comes to Central Kentucky daily because of being renowned throughout the world as the Horse Capital of the World. Some has defined the Bluegrass area as Ky. having the largest state park or even national park with out expense of maintaining it.

Thayer:
The horse industry, and I reference all breeds here, has a tremendous economic benefit to our economy. Much of it is quantifiable, in terms of jobs produced, commerce created, tourism dollars spent, etc. But our international reputation as the Horse Capital of the World really sets us apart. Kentucky is filled with people like my wife and me who moved here specifically because of horses. There is a quality of life that is truly special. Whether it is the Horse Park, our racetracks, breeding farms, horse shows, trail riding, horse sales, etc. people come from all over the world to experience our special relationship with horses here in Kentucky.

Belfry, KY:
Yesterday Gov. Fletcher proposed a bill for tax credit for property owners allowing hunting and fishing on their property. Why not allow such credits for trail riding for horses. Trail riding a growing segment of the horse industry yet Kentucky has been slow in responding.

Thayer:
That is a pretty good point! I have asked the Parks and Fish and Wildlife Departments for an inventory of horse trails on public property, as well as their current status of availability to the public. We do need to figure out a way to open up more trails around Kentucky, and I will keep your suggestion in mind.

By the way, the City of Ryland Heights in Kenton County is building a new horse trail there overlooking the Licking River Valley (Shameless plug for my district!). I helped secure a Recreational Trails Fund grant for the project and it should be open later this year.

Denver, CO:
What good news is on the horizon for the little guy -- the small breeder and consignor?

Thayer:
As a small breeder myself, it is great to see that the sales continue to thrive. If you can breed a good looking horse with some pedigree, you have got a chance to do well. And it always makes me happy to see horses like Thor’s Echo win Breeders’ Cup races to prove that “the little guy” can make it in this business.

Poughkeepsie, NY:
Have you heard of any future plans of Churchill Downs adding the synthetic surface?

Thayer:
I think that is a question for Churchill Downs. I only know what I have read in the Blood-Horse, and that a CDI track (Arlington) is going synthetic.

Shelbyville, KY:
Senator Thayer: Now that the Animal Rights Extremists have successfully hijacked the largest city in the state (Louisville) with a 90-page anti-pet ordinance driven entirely by the PETA/HSUS agenda, numerous provisions of which negatively affects horse owners in Jefferson County, and given that HSUS has now set its sights on a similar state agenda with their celebratory rally set for Frankfort on Feb 13th, what will you do to protect KY citizens from their anti-horse racing, anti-farming, anti-animal husbandry agenda which would cripple our state economically?

Thayer:
I will be ever-vigilant, I can promise you that. I think my record speaks for itself. Visit my web site at www.damonthayer.com  and check my archives for more details.

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