STATESIDE For the second consecutive year, the television ratings for the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) made it the most-watched program of the week. It was reality television at its best (though I don't profess to be an expert on the other "reality" shows). The entire Visa Triple Crown had an incredible storyline, one that almost anyone could relate to. There were good guys and bad guys, triumph and tragedy, fame and fortune knocking at the door. For one week, horse racing produced the "American Idol," and his name was Smarty Jones. Horse racing was bigger than the season finale of "The Sopranos," bigger than the NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Pistons, even bigger than "Miss Universe." It certainly gives the industry something to build on.
An opinion piece published in this space April 3, 2004, ("Buyer Beware") mentioned a legal case in England involving prominent bloodstock agent Charles Gordon-Watson, trainer David Elsworth, and two parties that had been engaged in a private transaction involving the filly Foodbroker Fancy. The article reported on actions The Jockey Club of England was considering in cases where those involved in bloodstock transactions were found to be in violation of a newly created industry code of ethics. However, the primary focus of the opinion piece was on the need for North America's bloodstock industry to take steps to eliminate fraud or unethical behavior in the public or private sale of Thoroughbreds. It was suggested that a North American organization follow the lead established by The Jockey Club of England in establishing a code of ethics or in licensing bloodstock agents. To clarify the matter, The Jockey Club of England made an inquiry into the Foodbroker Fancy case, speaking to all parties or their representatives involved. It then said it "does not intend to proceed further in the matter against either Mr. Elsworth or Mr. Gordon-Watson. It has borne in mind that the particular transaction was never concluded and no money changed hands." The dispute arose after the proposed sale of Foodbroker Fancy fell through. Pre-trial witness statements indicated Elsworth was to receive a commission from Gordon-Watson, whose principal, California-based agent Richard Duggan, proposed to buy the filly on behalf of a client. According to witness statements, Elsworth also was to receive a commission from the party selling the horse, Foodbrokers Ltd. Gordon-Watson said the commission he offered Elsworth was to help compensate for the loss of training fees the filly would have generated, and that such a commission "is not illegal and is a normal trade practice in many businesses." Published reports in England said the witness statements led the presiding judge in the matter to say Gordon-Watson and Elsworth were involved in "bribery." However, no evidence was given in the case, rendering the judge's published comments as hypothetical. Gordon-Watson settled the case with Foodbrokers and Duggan by paying £40,000, and £10,000 to the two parties, respectively. The commission for Elsworth was not built into the sale price of Foodbroker Fancy and did not affect the sale, according to Gordon-Watson. He added that both seller (Foodbrokers Ltd.) and intended buyer (Duggan) were aware that the selling price was £275,000. The Blood-Horse did not mean to imply fraud or bribery took place in the matter involving Gordon-Watson and Elsworth. In its statement saying it was dropping the Foodbroker Fancy matter, The Jockey Club of England reiterated its call for "increased transparency in bloodstock transactions."