Breeders from the United States and Canada were honored Sept. 5 during a luncheon that included a call for the industry to get behind efforts to restore the NTRA Great State Challenge to the racing calendar for 2004.
The luncheon, held by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association at Labrot & Graham Distillery near Versailles, Ky., is held each year to recognize top breeders. This year, they represented 19 states and Canada.
"It's an exciting time to be representing TOBA," organization chairman Gary Biszantz said. "The strength of our industry is the breeders. There is a lot of enthusiasm now in the industry, and if we keep that going in the next year, we have a chance to create a major league sport."
Dave Hooper, executive director of the Texas Thoroughbred Association, was on hand to accept for attorney Joe Archer, the Texas breeder of the year who was working on a court case in his home state. Hooper took the opportunity to talk about the importance of the Great State Challenge, held last year at Sam Houston Race Park.
The National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Breeders' Cup did not schedule the event for this year because efforts to line up sponsors failed. Sam Houston has expressed interest in hosting it again.
"It was put on hold by the NTRA and Breeders' Cup, but we need to get it restored," Hooper told the gathering of about 50 people. "They need sponsorship dollars. We're going to try to generate sponsorships from business people and farms in Texas. I hope you might consider doing the same in your region or state."
Though there was plenty of Monday morning quarterbacking after the first Great State Challenge last December, participants and breed association officials said they believed the event was worthwhile and could be improved. Hooper is the first to indicate a grassroots push for sponsorships.
The annual TOBA luncheon is quite popular with award winners. Among the winners this year is Pat Thompson, who owns California's Ridgeley Farm, home of the stallion Memo. One of his sons, millionaire Grey Memo, was bred by and is owned in partnership by Thompson.
"It is the biggest honor of my life to get this award, and I do owe it all to Grey Memo," Thompson said. "He's my favorite horse."
Said Dr. Jerry Humphreys, the honoree from Tennessee: "I enjoy foaling mares and watching the youngsters grow and blossom on the racetrack. You have a lot of heartbreak in the business, but there are some wonderful moments."