Is this the type of leadership we want?

As Del Mar prepares to begin its 70th season today and optimism — at least for a day — runs high among California horsemen, we are painfully reminded of two comments made recently by members of the California Horse Racing Board that point out how badly we need a change in attitude at the top.

Yes, I know how much owner Jerry Jamgotchian has been a thorn in their side for years now, constantly sniping and taking shots at them. There is no doubt that Mr. Jamgotchian could be a little less caustic and still get his point across, but there is also little doubt about this — he has a lot of good ideas, something even chairman John Harris admitted in a recent article in the North County Times.

But no matter how annoying Jamgotchian can be, no matter how much he buzzes around their heads like a little gnat, there was no excuse for the following comments, and they are very troubling to me.

It doesn’t even matter who said them, so we’re going to keep their names out of this, even though one of the quotes appeared in the North County Times and the author of said quote is well-known.

“I can’t speak for the board, but since he (Jamgotchian) so vocally dislikes it here, his departure is fine with me. He was never a major player here anyway.”

Here’s what’s wrong with that statement: No one owner, no matter how small or large, should be discarded when California has such a shortage in horses today. They should be coddled and encouraged to stay, rather than riducled and shown the door. I mean, these CHRB members are high-ranking officials in the industry and should be a little more thick-skinned. It’s dumbfounding to me that such a statement would be made when we need MORE owners, not less.

This next one I am going to paraphrase, because I don’t have the exact quote. One of the commissioners, when Jamgotchian sent out an e-mail to media members and a large segment of industry officials second-guessing for the umpteenth time the synthetic track mandate, took umbrage with the fact that Jamgotchian was blaming the synthetics for co-owner Jess Jackson’s decision to skip the November Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita with Rachel Alexandra.

The commissioner’s attitude? In essence he said, Who cares? We’ll still have a great Breeders’ Cup.

Well, I have no doubt we’ll have another successful Breeders’ Cup, as well. But this commissioner SHOULD care that Rachel Alexandra may not be here. I mean, she’s one of the two most popular race horses, along with Zenyatta, in America today. This state’s racing leaders and Breeders’ Cup officials should be bending over backwards to convince Jackson to send his marvelous filly out here. She’s a huge drawing card, not to mention the incredible positive media coverage — something this sport desperately needs as often as possible — a possible Rachel Alexandra-Zenyatta showdown would attract.

I sure hope these two CHRB members’ thoughts are a minority view. If not, we have bigger problems than even I thought. Folks, this industry needs to come together and get this mess straightened out before it’s too late, rather than flippantly dismissing valid issues because you despise the messenger.

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