'Gail Force' By Dan Liebman

(Originally published in the April 24, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)    

Gail Hughes called recently and wanted to stop by and chat, an invitation readily accepted. I have learned many things over the past 25-plus years covering the Thoroughbred industry, and one thing that has served me well is always making time to listen when the wise among us are speaking.

This is not to imply there are not talented, bright young people involved in the Thoroughbred industry. It is to state this writer believes each generation would do well to listen intently to those who have experienced more and are freely willing to share their wisdom gleaned from those experiences.

Though a Tennessee native, Gail is a Kentuckian at heart. He spent his summers in the state as a youth and transfered from William & Mary to the University of Kentucky after being discharged from the Army, where, naturally, he served in the cavalry. His love of horses brought him to Kentucky, but at UK he found the love of his life as well, a young New Yorker seated in front of him in class. In June he and Ruth will celebrate wedding anniversary number 58.

Arriving at The Blood-Horse a few weeks ago, Gail was accompanied by Ruth, who looked as if she could still exercise young horses at Forest Retreat Farm, which she did for decades while Gail managed the Asbury family’s Thoroughbred nursery outside Paris near Carlisle, Ky.

Besides the opportunity to reminisce and chat about his days at Forest Retreat and prior to that at Greentree Stud, Gail’s reason for visiting was to bestow upon me a priceless photo, taken last summer on the occasion of Ruth’s 80th birthday. Standing with Gail in the photo are Henry White, Johnny Griggs, and Bob Courtney.

Among Kentucky hardboots the foursome represents a superfecta of horse knowledge, each having toiled—and I do mean toiled—in the industry for four, five, six decades.

At Greentree, Gail was around such horses as Shut Out, Capot, Bimelech, Tom Fool, and of course, La Troienne, the greatest mare of recent memory, whom Gail held when she was euthanized.

He nurtured Forest Retreat into a solid breeding ground of success, standing Naskra, among others, and proudly having bred and sold the winners of both the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby.

Gail is a former Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club farm manager of the year, as are White and Courtney. Longtime friend Griggs is not, only because as a vet and farm owner he is more associated with those roles than as a farm manager.

Favorite hour of the year so far in 2010: the hour spent with Gail and Ruth Hughes.

Ted Bears Down
Speaking of someone with an incredible wealth of knowledge, those attending the annual Racing Commissioners International convention last week in Lexington were treated to such a person as their keynote speaker on the opening day of the gathering.

Ted Bassett has experienced much in his roles as the former president of Keeneland and Breeders’ Cup, not to mention the way his strong character was shaped by his years studying at Yale, his distinguished service in the Marines, and his stint as Commissioner of the Kentucky State Police.

So it is noteworthy that Bassett used such stern language when addressing the country’s regulators. Regarding the manner in which the industry has been led for the past 40 years, Bassett said: “If you graded us, you’d have to give us a resounding ‘F.’ ” He also called the state of the industry “dismal.”

Bassett pushed those in attendance to make a National Racing Compact a reality without delay. The compact would make it easier for states to adopt similar regulations and bring uniformity to racing without federal intervention.
“Where is the hope? The racetracks can’t do it; The Jockey Club can’t do it; the (Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association) can’t do it. The one hope, I’m saying to you, is the people charged with implementing the rules and regulations,” Bassett said. “No longer can we have the status quo (in horse racing).”

When the wise among us speak, we should listen.

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