More Transparency Needed - by Eric Mitchell

The recent New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association election has raised some troubling questions about how horsemen’s organizations are run and also has exposed at least one major pitfall in the ability of this particular organization to work with the state of New York.

The NYTHA conducted an election in November, in which its members were asked to select a president and fill five owner seats and five trainer seats on its board of directors. Tensions were particularly high surrounding a contentious race for president between two-term incumbent Rick Violette Jr. and challenger Terry Finley, president and founder of West Point Thoroughbreds.

Finley stepped into the NYTHA political arena because he felt the association was not being responsive enough to its members and was overdue for fresh perspectives that new leadership might bring.

Violette, a trainer, received strong backing from other state THA organization executives, who felt he had consistently displayed strong leadership in his role as president and deserved to continue serving.

An undercurrent to the race is a difference in philosophy over the race-day use of the anti-bleeder medication furosemide (Salix). Violette is a staunch supporter of furosemide’s continued use while Finley has stated the United States should at least consider putting its medication rules on par with other major racing countries, which prohibit its use on race day.

(It should be noted Finley is a board member for the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, which owns Blood-Horse Publications. It should also be understood that Blood-Horse Publications is run by five trustees who make up the publications committee that operates independently of the TOBA board, and Finley is not a member of the publications committee.)

The result of the presidential election was close—only 14 votes separated Violette from Finley from 1,236 ballots cast.

Several days after the election Finley began hearing from NYTHA members who did not receive ballots. Perhaps as many as 1,000 members might have been overlooked. Some members also told Finley their ballots arrived in the mail on the day they were to be submitted.

Feedback from these members prompted Finley to protest the results and request the new board of directors re-run the election.

What exactly the process is for handling this protest is not clear. NYTHA executive director Jim Gallagher has not responded to multiple requests from The Blood-Horse for clarification. Even Finley’s attorney Andrew Mollica, who has access to the NYTHA bylaws, said the process is unclear.

NYTHA board member Steve Zorn posted a comment on that said the association board would meet and decide on the exact procedure to follow in providing Finley with a hearing.

So the board, which is largely made up of incumbents following the election, will decide on how the protest and a subsequent hearing will be conducted? Not exactly an independent arbiter.

Other conflicts that raise concerns about transparency and fairness are in the mix as well. The three members of NYTHA’s election committee, which is responsible for overseeing the election, were THA CEO and counsel Alan Foreman, Gallagher, and NYTHA auditor/accountant Craig Gegorek. Two of the three members are association employees who report to the officers and board members.

Regarding the distribution of ballots, it is possible the NYTHA missed some of its members because it had an incomplete roster. Any licensed owner or trainer who runs at least one horse in the state of New York is automatically a member of the NYTHA. The New York Gaming Commission, however, won’t give the NYTHA the names and contact information for licensees because it considers the information private, not public, record. If an online search is conducted for other licensed professionals—certified public accountants, physicians, etc.—New York discloses at least the city of residence.

Why isn’t this information disclosed to the NYTHA so it can ensure the accuracy and integrity of its rosters? These are people who have to be licensed by the state to participate in a regulated industry, who are members of a quasi-public organization that shares responsibility in how a portion of gambling revenue is spent. The NYTHA’s $3 million annual budget is funded by handle.

Industry leaders talk a lot about restoring the integrity of racing. More transparency and accountability would go a long way toward achieving this goal.

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