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Emerald Downs

Muckleshoot Indian Tribe

Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association

Washington Horse Racing Commission

President's Message - November 2009

Greetings to the members of the WHBPA. Fall is upon us, and we are going to work to support you and our industry.

In late September, the ballots were counted, and we have a new Board as reflected in those totals. Our new board has owner-members Pat LePley and Keith Swagerty joining re-elected members Jack Fabulich, Karla Laird, and Sue Spooner; Robbie Baze returns to the Board with newly elected trainer members Mike Chambers, Terry Gillihan, Frank Lucarelli, and Blaine Wright. Ron Maus has been elected as president.

As we make the transition, I would like to thank those folks who previously served upon our Board but did not return. Frank McDonald brought a great deal of caring and passion for the industry, and I thank him for the time expended during his term of office. Owner-member Ray McCanna, and trainer members Bonnie Jenne, Jim Orr, Ben Root, and Kathy Schenk (who kindly filled the balance of the term of Aubrey Villyard following his passing) all served with purpose and caring about what occurred in our state. When you see them, please join me in thanking them for their service.

I would also like to thank those who offered their time and ran for elected position in our Association, whether successfully or not. It takes a lot of dedication and interest to serve in a demanding position in a difficult time without any compensation for doing so. Ray McCanna and I each sought to be president, and I am confident that had the outcome been different, Ray would have done his best to passionately serve the members. Thank you all for offering yourselves to the industry needs.

Looking ahead, we find ourselves in difficult financial times; both for the nation in the midst of a recession, and in our industry, which has seen significant drops in handle each of the last two years reflecting a souring economy. Handle drives purses, and we, like those in other states and other tracks, will face declining purse values in the coming years without a reverse in the trend in handle. I would ask each of our members to consider doing all that you can to encourage participation in our sport: as bettors, spectators, enthusiastic owners, and purchasers of yearlings.

At the completion of the term of the last board, based upon the vote of the full board, Frank McDonald signed a contract with Emerald Downs for the take-out percentages from handle that will comprise the bulk of our purses. The contract covers the next three years, so our business with respect to negotiation with Emerald Downs is complete with respect to financial issues. We will still be working hard at making improvements in the process relating to the offering and selection of races through the condition book, and we will be monitoring the race track and safety conditions at Emerald Downs.

However, it appears to me that beyond the important day to day issues that we will address with Emerald Downs, our biggest challenges ahead lay with respect to the local economy, and with how horse racing within the state and most particularly, at Emerald Downs, is perceived by the public. It is critical that we team with Emerald Downs to find means to stem effects of the recession, and to do all that we can to demonstrate the beauty of our sport, the magnificence of the animals, and the superiority of wagering with the possibility of employing skill rather than the simple chance required at
other forms of wagering.

At the same time, it is important to recognize that our purses have been significantly enhanced by economic development contributions by the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, and I would like to work within the industry to strengthen that relationship and to give back to the Tribe in non-financial ways.

Our new Board will shortly begin its work. I plan on making a vigorous attempt at working as if we are one industry, with partners in the breeders, the race track, and the regulators. Despite actions and attitudes in the past which challenge it, the simple fact is that we are one industry, and we are a struggling industry. Division has not brought prosperity to any one of our industry components, and I will do all that I can to see if working as one, with mutual purpose, we can improve our mutually-tied outlook and fortunes. Please support us in this effort; we may ask for specific help at later dates as we formulate strategies and action plans to address the challenges that exist.

Also, I would like to point out that the Washington Horse Racing Commission recently passed a new rule allowing for claiming horses to be laid off for a period of 180 days, and to then be re-entered into a claiming race, at or above the level of its last race, and not run for a tag for its first out. This is an excellent rule, first used in California, which theWHBPA supported. This should allow many of our members to lay a horse off after a meet at Emerald Downs and bring it back to Emerald Downs the next season, without risk of loss in its first out. The rule is optional, and it is mandatory that the horse be entered as not available for the tag, but I hope that this will encourage folks to give horses plenty of time to rest or heal up, and may also keep horses in Washington that otherwise might go to another jurisdiction simply to avoid re-conditioning and the risk of claim upon return.

Prior to theWTBA summer sale in early September, a number of people were looking for ways to give a “lift” to interest in and value forWa-bred horses. Frank Lucarelli (one of our new trainer-members on the Board) suggested that Wa-breds running at Emerald Downs be given the opportunity to go through every condition twice, which is similar to the Cal-bred getting two shots at the first level allowance, but on a broader scale. Early discussions with the WTBA and Emerald Downs indicated that this was a move that each could embrace, and it is something that would not require rule-making changes from the Washington Horse Racing Commission, but could instead be a “house rule” at Emerald Downs. We have
held some early discussions with Jack Hodge and Bret Anderson at Emerald Downs with respect to this topic, and it appears that they will support it, although the scope of that support is going to be a function of the horses that are on the grounds, and limited to non-maiden races of some sort. We will keep you apprised as this moves forward.

One of my main goals in running for president is to increase communication with you, our members. We are presently undergoing an effort to collect email addresses from our members so that we can send out a monthly update as to what is going on with theWHBPA and the industry. We are also attempting to get a new website set up that will allow us greater ability to make resources and communication enhancements with you; it will take a bit of time, but we will get it up and running. We intend to keep you informed, and truthfully; I do not believe in rumors being useful, and they are all virtually always factually wrong as spread and, in the recent past, have often been wrong-hearted to start. We will be holding three general meetings this coming racing year at Emerald Downs; we will keep you advised of those plans once our horses are back in the barns.

In the meantime, I can be reached at ron@buffalostables.com; I prefer to not get phone calls due to my work schedule, which is full-time.

Enjoy the Thanksgiving Holiday. While things are not the best by a far cry, we each have much to be thankful for at this time of year. Being in this industry, however challenging, is a blessing, if for no other reason than to associate with these beautiful creatures.

Best of luck, and health, to each of you and to your horses over the winter months.

Ron Maus

 

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