Racing Association toldto spur statesmanship

Dec 12, 2000 9:53 AM

You’ve got to admire a guy like John R. Gaines.

"Enough, already!" is essentially what Gaines told the thoroughbred racing industry in a speech during the 27th annual Racing Symposium last week at the University of Arizona.

Gaines’ vision was responsible for the Breeders Cup (now believed to be the world’s Championship Day of Racing. He was attempting to quiet the rhetoric that has threatened the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) and has caused a divisive issue within the industry that needs cohesion more than ever.

Prior to last week’s gathering of the world’s movers and shakers of the thoroughbred racing world, acerbic comments and threats seemed to be jeopardizing the three-year-old organization, founded to market the Sports of Kings in the 21st century.

Because of disagreements as to the paths taken by the NTRA, as many as 22 racetracks had threatened to resign from the organization. Included were a dozen tracks from the Mid-Atlantic states that were upset that a relationship between the NTRA and TVG, which is taking Internet bets through a totalizator hub in Oregon, threatens some of the telephone wagering systems they operate; seven tracks owned by Frank Stronach’s Magna Entertainment Inc. (MEIC) with Stronach complaining that the organization is less than democratic in nature; and some independents who just want out.

After Stronach had takenout full-page ads in industry publications outlining his concerns and suggested remedies, R.D. Hubbard, former chairman of Hollywood Park and one of the founders and early supporters of the NTRA, suggested the organization go forward without him.

That brought concerns that financing the NTRA’s marketing efforts would be severely limited. But that concern was essentially alleviated with the announcement that the NTRA would marry the deep-pocketed Breeders Cup, or vice-versa.

At the symposium, NTRA Chief Executive Tim Smith announced that the 2001 operating budget would be $53 million, thanks largely to the newly combined NTRA-Breeders Cup. The budget did not include the funds that would be paid by the 22 dissident tracks.

Gaines favored neither side in the dispute. Rather, he strongly suggested the points of both sides had merit and should be recognized accordingly. But before sitting down together, he suggested they end the divisive commentaries.

"The public exchanges between the NTRA and Frank Stronach are totally unproductive," he began. "They only serve to further polarize an industry that is yearning to stand tall on common ground.

"To tone down the cacophony, each side needs to concede at least one thing: Frank Stronach should respect the empirical fact that the collective investment of all the constituencies represented by the NTRA is countless times larger than that of the chairman of Magna Entertainment and the master of Adena Springs Farm. On the other hand, the investments of Mr. Stronach and the enterprises he controls make him the largest individual stakeholder in the entire industry, and the NTRA should honor such an undeviating commitment.

"At this point, what we do not need are any more calls for unity or any more pleas for a common agenda. Neither do we need any more lectures on entrepreneurship or any more sermons on democracy.

"What we do need is an act of statesmanship on the part of both parties."

"The NTRA must accept the validity of Mr. Stronach’s concern that the industry’s history of too many self-perpetuating bureaucracies, accountable to no one but themselves, is a recipe for disaster. And Mr. Stronach must accept that the splintering of our industry threatens a way of life that is precious not only to him but to many thousands of other stakesholders in our industry.

"In my view, Mr. Stronach, without hesitation, should join the NTRA’s board and participate fully in decisions it makes about racing’s future. I believe this is the best, and the only, way for him to accomplish his goals and achieve his unique vision of our sport."

Gaines concluded by pointing to one of America’s founders, Ben Franklin, and his frustration during the Constitutional Convention.

Exhausted by all the wrangling, subterfuges, selfishness and partisanship, Gaines said, Franklin finally remarked, "As I gaze out the great window at the end of this hallowed hall, I am unable to discern whether the sun is setting or rising over our great republic. But of one thing I am sure. Without the good will of every single one of us and our desire to serve the common good, the republic will not survive."

"Amen!" shouted some symposium attendees.