Commentary: Breeders MIA at NTRA Meeting

Central Kentucky's Thoroughbred breeders were noticeable by their absence at the Keeneland sale pavilion on Thursday morning when the National Thoroughbred Racing Association held the first session of a two-day membership meeting. In fact, there may have been more breeders and horsemen from outside of Kentucky who came to Lexington for the meeting than there were from what has come to be known as '606 country' (though Lexington's area code has recently changed from 606 to 859).

Horsemen and track executives were on hand from California, Texas, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Nebraska, among other states. There were even two fans from California who paid $25 to become NTRA members and wanted to see what plans the organization had for the future. But you virtually could count on one hand the number of Kentucky breeders who showed up to see how their money is being spent.

That is no insignificant amount of money, either. Revenue from the breeders' segment will account for 41.4% of the revenue in the $59.2 million joint operating budget that a consolidated NTRA and Breeders' Cup will have next year. The $24.5 million from breeders comes from Breeders' Cup nominations and voluntary contributions from stallion syndicates and the commercial marketplace.

It's too bad breeders didn't turn out to show their support or interest in NTRA programs. They would have heard what benefits the industry will gain from the NTRA-Breeders' Cup consolidation. They would have learned what the marketing and television strategies will be for the next year, gotten an update on the growth of group purchasing, lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., and heard about the new national affiliation between the Ronald McDonald House Charities and NTRA Charities, which will demonstrate the industry's concern with local communities. Breeders might have benefited from the wisdom of marketing whiz Steve Bowen from the Merkley Newman Harty agency and enjoyed the video retrospective on the NTRA's first years.

Friday's session, which runs from 9 a.m. until noon, will focus specifically on legislative and regulatory activities, the TVG and interactive wagering field, the technology venture with IBM, the drug testing task force, sponsorships, and efforts to bring new owners into racing through a program called TheGreatestGame.com. As they did on Thursday, members will have an opportunity to comment or ask questions during a Q&A session.

Breeders may not benefit immediately if racetrack attendance and handle increase, but surely they understand that a healthy racing industry with high visibility in the mainstream media eventually will pay dividends to them. That's why many of them support the NTRA through voluntary stallion or auction contributions. What's puzzling is why so few of them care to see how the NTRA is progressing, and whether or not their money is making a difference.