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Letter from the President - May

May 01, 2007 · By · Share


A year ago this week, I penned my thoughts about the experience of running our first starter, Flashy Bull in the Kentucky Derby.  This year, I cannot help but reminisce as I watch this year's crop of three-year-olds prepare for their shot at the run for the roses.

Someone recently asked me how I feel this time of year.  To me, spring is the season of hope.  For West Point Thoroughbreds, last spring was about the hope of getting Flashy Bull to the Derby.  This year, our hope is to scour the sales and find our next Kentucky Derby or Oaks starter.  Our goal is to win the Kentucky Derby, and we will not settle for any less.  Getting there last year was quite an accomplishment, but the Derby is a thrill we want to experience again.

If you'd like to see some of our memories from last year's Derby, go to the special slideshow on our web site at http://www.westpointtb.com/experience/photos.jsp.

Fortunately, our success continues.  Flashy Bull has matured into a competitive handicap horse.  He decimated an allowance field at Belmont in April earning a 106 Beyer, and his next target is the $100,000 William Donald Schaefer Handicap(G3) on Preakness Day at Pimlico.  We also won the Schaefer in 2004 with our multiple graded stakes winner Seattle Fitz.

While we will not run in this year's Derby, the day will still be extremely exciting for us as our graded stakes winner Dream Rush will continue her march toward a divisional  championship in the $200,000 Nassau County Breeders' Cup(G2) at Belmont Park.  Dream Rush is arguably the best three-year-old filly in the country, and her trainer Rick Violette, Jr. has called her a championship caliber filly for many months now.  We will use the Nassau as a launching point for our next target, the Acorn Stakes(G1) on June 9th at Belmont.  We are thrilled with the fact that we are heading into the summer with one of the most talented fillies in the country.

Away from the racetrack, we had another successful event as our west coast two-year-old preview went wonderfully.  Over thirty Partners attended and got to meet the new babies.  Trainer Craig Dollase came out, and this event, similar to last month's Ocala event, seemed to really amplify the enthusiasm all around.  We are looking forward to our third and final event in Saratoga at Goodwin Farm on June 7th.

I spent some time in Kentucky for Breeders' Cup board meetings, and we elected Greg Avioli as its President and CEO.  Greg has served in the same capacity in an interim role since last summer, and I believe his permanent appointment to the position is great for racing.  Greg's focus is on increasing the equity, awareness and reach of Breeders' Cup brand.  This includes making the Breeders' Cup more attractive to international markets and increasing the event's television presence throughout the year.  We have made significant strides thus far with the advent of the Breeders' Cup Challenge television series on ABC/ESPN and the addition of a second day to the World Championship races.  I have known Greg for several years through my roles on both the Breeders' Cup and NTRA PAC boards, and I believe that he is an excellent steward to move forward the board's vision.

I wanted to spend a few moments sharing with you my thoughts on a couple issues facing racing right now that we need to tackle head on.

Over the past three months, I have attended two-year-old auctions from coast to coast, and I continue to see the problems with the sales market.   There are people who are less than virtuous with their approach to prepping two-year-olds for the sales.  They do corrective surgery on yearlings, blister horses that are back at the knee, acupuncture throats and use screws and wires to make horses appear more correct.  This does not even include the use of steroids to inflate a horse's physique.

If you're not careful at these sales, you could drive off the lot thinking you bought a Mercedes only to get it home and find out that it's actually a Yugo.  Fortunately, I have developed relationships with numerous consigners who do things by the book.  I'm grateful that they participate in the business - otherwise we wouldn't have any horses to purchase.  There are many hard working and honest people out there that are harmed by these practices.  More importantly, the horses are the ones who suffer the most.   These practices must stop.

Finally, the future of the New York racing franchise will soon be determined.  In April, each bidder presented to the board assembled by Governor Elliot Spitzer.  Spitzer reopened the process when he took office, and many of the variables have changed since Governor Pataki's ad hoc committee made its non-binding recommendations last year.  As a member of the board of Empire Racing, I am energized by the entire process.

Regardless of the outcome, the dialogue generated during this debate is healthy for racing.  We cannot lose sight of one very important fact: racing needs New York's franchise to continue as one of the best in the world.  This decision comes down to the question of who has the best plan to manage a multi-billion dollar business that marries racing and its distinct needs with that of the proposed slot machines.

Empire carries the endorsement of the New York Thoroughbred Horseman's Association, and Empire's partnership with Churchill Downs and Magna brings a wealth of expertise in racing and gaming unmatched by any other bidder.  We realize that business as usual will no longer suffice.  That is why Empire's plan goes far beyond the day to day management of the racetracks.  We earmarked funds to help spur economic development in Central New York, and we have committed to invest in Cornell University's equine-drug testing facility.  It is this proactive look at the future of our sport and the welfare of the industry as a whole that will allow us to grow and strengthen the sport to levels never before reached.

Empire realizes that racing must adapt or perish, and our plan includes an exciting proposal for hotels, retail, and entertainment complexes.  However, we will never lose sight of what we are all bidding on: the racing franchise.  Racing is our highest priority.  Some may argue that this is a battle to control VLT's, there is much more at stake.  Racing in New York must be salvaged, and if it is run by parties who are more concerned with VLT's than racing; then it is destined to fail.  In the end, however, I am confident that the process will yield a positive result and racing in New York will remain the best in the world.

Until next month.

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