Drew Couto, who helped form the Thoroughbred Owners of California in 1993 and served for the past five years as president, has decided to step down.
Following a meeting, TOC's board of directors announced in a statement June 25 that Couto's contract would not be renewed and the board will begin an executive search to fill the position immediately. The statement said "it was an amicable parting of the ways."
Couto, a founding director of the organization, turned 50 at the beginning of the month. He said he felt this was the proper time to leave, adding that he has no immediate plans.
"I'm just feeling beaten up and worn out," he said. "It's time to rejuvenate my batteries before I get started again."
A resident of North San Diego County and an owner of several Thoroughbreds, Couto left his law practice in 1995 to serve as the first general counsel and executive director of the TOC, which is the legally recognized representative of horse owners in the state. He left a year later to begin a four-year stint as president and general counsel of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association in Lexington. He later rejoined the TOC administration as a consultant and replaced John Van de Kamp as president in July 2004.
The TOC is charged with representing owners in legislative, administrative, and business matters. It is the organization that negotiates purse contracts with racetracks.
Couto saw the implementation of advance deposit wagering in California and was engaged in a number of squabbles over terms between the horsemen, the ADW providers and racetrack associations. Insisting that horsemen were being consistently shortchanged, he was involved in similar fights nationally as vice president with the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group.
"I'm sure I've caused a number of battles, but not nearly as many as people have blamed me for," he said. "Eventually all of these things wear you down. I was feeling like Don Quixote, always tilting at windmills.
"I just felt it was time to step back and make some life decisions," he added. "This job is 7-24-365 and, well, I found out I'm human."
Marsha Naify, chair of the TOC, said Guy Lamothe, the organization's executive vice president, would handle day-today operations on an interim basis. Naify will serve as Couto's replacement on various California boards where TOC has a voting interest.
“Drew has served the organization well during his tenure over the years. We thank him for his service and wish him all the best for the future,” Naify said.