Breeders' Cup Honors Winning Breeders; NYRA Chief Outlines Challenges

Henry White was not the breeder of record for any of the eight Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championship winners in 2004, but the former owner of Plum Lane Farm received the biggest ovation when the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Breeders' Cup honored the winning breeders at the annual awards dinner Saturday at Keeneland.

The dinner, held in conjunction with the Thoroughbred Club of America, also gave Central Kentucky breeders an opportunity to hear from the new president and chief executive officer of the New York Racing Association, Charlie Hayward, the evening's guest speaker.

White accepted the award for NetJets Mile (gr. IT) winner Singletary on behalf of Joy Disler of Tulsa, Okla. Disler, who bred Singletary with her late husband, Loyd, was unable to attend.

"I begged people to buy this horse," White recalled of Singletary who brought just $3,200 at the 2001 Keeneland October yearling sale. White foaled and raised the colt by Sultry Song out of Joiski's Star, by Star de Naskra, at Plum Lane.

One of Central Kentucky's most respected horsemen (he was voted 1979 Farm Manager of the Year) and a longtime associate of the late owner-breeder Paul Mellon, White sold Plum Lane Farm in 2002. "This was kind of my swan song," White said of Singletary, "because he was born in my last crop." White received a standing ovation as he made his way back to his seat.

Aaron and Marie Jones were given two miniature Ecorche horse trophies as breeders of Ashado, winner of the Distaff – Presented by Nextel (gr. I), and Speightstown, winner of the Sprint (gr. I). Aaron Jones took the opportunity to thank Frank Taylor and Taylor Made Farm for their role in the success he and his wife have enjoyed. Though he humorously chided Frank Taylor for advising him to sell both horses, Jones called him "the best partner I've had in my life – except for this gal (Marie) on my left."

"I do what he tells me, and I haven't lost a buck yet," Jones said of Frank Taylor. "You, your late father (Joe Taylor), and your brothers...we thank you from the bottom of our hearts."

Diane Perkins, breeder of John Deere Turf (gr. IT) victor Better Talk Now, traveled from her home in Argentina to receive her trophy. "I'm proud to have bred this horse in Kentucky," she said, recalling how she and her late husband, Peter, developed their farm across from Claiborne Farm near Paris.

Lord Derby, breeder and owner of VO5 Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) winner Ouija Board, had a conflict that prevented him from attending. Emcees John Asher and Mike Battaglia said Lord Derby accepted an invitation to spend the weekend at Sandringham Estate in the company of England's Queen Elizabeth.

Bill Farish of Lane's End Farm, accepting on behalf of Lord Derby, said Ouija Board is being pointed for a five-race campaign in 2005 – all against males, ending with the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) and John Deere Turf.

Frank Stronach, breeder and owner of Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I) winner Ghostzapper, also could not attend. Dan Hall, Stronach's longtime manager of Adena Springs Farm in Kentucky, commented on the challenges horsemen face in producing champion runners. "When you breed a Breeders' Cup winner, you ought to consider it a special gift, because it's tough," he said. "It's an honor to be a part of a team that's accomplished this."

NYRA president and CEO Hayward provided details of a professional career focused mainly in publishing, first at Little, Brown & Co. and then at Daily Racing Form. He left Daily Racing Form in July 2004, two months after it was sold. Hayward formerly served on the NYRA board and was encouraged by friends to seek the vacant position after former NTRA commissioner Tim Smith took himself out of consideration for the job. Smith eventually was named head of an organization called Friends of New York Racing, which has the support of numerous racing companies, including Churchill Downs, Magna Entertainment, and Keeneland.

Hayward spoke of NYRA's difficulties: a large operating deficit in 2004; a franchise that expires in three years; a challenging legislative environment that has hamstrung its ability to open a slot machine parlor at Aqueduct; and the specter of a federal indictment.

"NYRA's gone through a lot of difficulties, and we're nowhere near out of the woods," Hayward said.

Hayward said the lack of slots at Aqueduct is costing the state of New York $1-million per day in tax revenue. "You'd think that would be important to (state legislators), but apparently they have larger fish to fry," he said.

Many people suspect that Friends of New York Racing is an "inside job" to have NYRA's franchise renewed, Hayward said. But if that was the case, he added, why would Magna and Churchill be on the organization's board? Hayward applauded recent comments by Stronach saying Magna would seek to cooperate more with other industry stakeholders. "I'm thrilled that it looks like Frank is going to be a lot more collaborative moving forward," he said. "The reality is we all have to work together because if we don't work together the game is not going to work."

Hayward spoke briefly about drug testing and allegations that New York racing is increasingly dominated by trainers who cheat. "Look at the next six months, and you are going to see a different landscape," he said.

He also said NYRA would work to make the 2005 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships – coming during Belmont Park's 100th anniversary – "the best event ever."