Roses and Issues - By Dan Liebman

(Originally published in the May 8, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

Arriving on the presentation stand after Super Saver had won the May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Bill Casner was greeted, and hugged, by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. Casner and partner Kenny Troutt own WinStar Farm near Versailles, Ky., which bred and races Super Saver.

Beshear has always said that one of the highlights of each year as governor of the commonwealth is presenting the trophy following the Derby, the world’s best-known horse race run on a day, despite the actual weather, when the sun always shines bright on Kentucky and its citizens.

Unfortunately, what television viewers see is far from what is really happening in Kentucky.

And no one knows it better than Bill Casner, Kenny Troutt, and Steve Beshear.

During a wide-ranging interview last October for a cover feature for The Blood-Horse, Casner and Troutt gave this writer hours of their time, presenting a situation both good and bad at the same time: too much material for one story.

Deciding to focus on the fascinating backgrounds of Casner and Troutt, their re-entry into the industry, the team they assembled at WinStar, and their philosophy of horsemanship, the issue-oriented content got left for another day.

Seeing Casner and Troutt beaming while hoisting the Derby trophy brought back memories of part of that interview, when Casner recalled a meeting held just before the formation of the Kentucky Equine Education Project and Troutt spoke fervently of what he considers the current lack of leadership in Kentucky politics.

At the meeting he spoke of, Casner said, a large group of horsemen attended and listened to a short talk by Kentucky Senate President David Williams. Casner, a lanky, fiery Texan, said he left the meeting fuming because the Republican Senate leader, in not so many words, said he simply could not help the Thoroughbred industry.

Dismayed, Troutt said, is how he feels when he thinks of the investment so many have made in the Thoroughbred business in Kentucky, only to see its elected officials turn their backs on the state’s leading industry.

Casner is the more outspoken of the two, but that morning Troutt showed he is equally as passionate. The two men have poured considerable money into WinStar, making it a showplace with magnificent barns, an elegant office, a new training track, top mares and stallions, and a superior management team.

And the two men have also poured considerable money into organizations, political action committees, and the campaign coffers of candidates who vow to help the struggling Kentucky horse industry.

The two men, and countless other horsemen, helped Beshear with his campaign that put him in the governor’s mansion in 2007. They helped with votes, and more importantly, with money. But Beshear made some missteps early in his term, not pushing soon enough nor hard enough for slots at racetracks.

We also found out that in Kentucky politics today, the governor is not the most powerful player; that honor unmistakably, and unfortunately, goes to Williams.

The scuttlebutt is that Williams will soon announce a run for governor, so should he and Beshear, who has already announced he is running for re-election, both win their party’s primaries in 2011, they would be pitted against each other in the general election.

Should that occur, the majority of Thoroughbred industry participants in the state—and many outside the state—would again make contributions to Beshear’s campaign.

The question is not what results they might see from their efforts, but how many will have been forced out of the game they love before then because the political leaders of this state failed to take action to help one of its leading industries?

Walden’s Wisdom

During that same October interview, with Casner and Troutt present, WinStar vice president and racing manager Elliott Walden was asked to name a horse we hadn’t heard of yet but would soon. Without hesitation he offered two names: Super Saver and American Lion.

Nice going, Elliott.   

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