03/06/2007 12:00AM

Breaking down the breed wall


TUCSON, Ariz. - There is little in the way of interbreed cooperation in horseracing in North America, but there should be more.

Breed prejudices are costly, squandering both talent and potential influence, but it is a lesson that escapes even the wise.

In the few cases where it exists - like this week's joint meeting of the 46 members of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations and 46 members of Harness Tracks of America at the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood, Fla. - the networking alone is refreshing and valuable. Just listening to the best minds of both breeds, and of authorities and experts from other fields, can be beneficial, and if no momentous decisions are reached the delegates at least learn how their counterparts feel about the important issues of racing, and how they attack and in some cases overcome them.

This is the fifth year that TRA and HTA have met jointly, and while highly subjective views still exist and even prevail, there is a vastly better understanding of the other side's outlook, and a mutual respect generated from three days of meetings and general sessions.

After committee and board meetings on Saturday that include such diverse discussions as the highly successful Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau perks program that Joe Morris has developed for both breeds, and promotional and medication issues, the Thoroughbred and harness delegates gather Sunday morning to hear four panels on key issues for racing management.

Addressing "Slots: The New Simulcasting," will be Nick Eaves, the new president and COO of Woodbine Entertainment, which offers major Thoroughbred and harness meetings; Chris McErlean, who guided both Thoroughbred racing at Monmouth Park and harness racing at the Meadowlands for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority; David Reid, the progressive chief executive of Horse Racing Alberta; and Bobby Soper, president of Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania.

Following that, the subject of "Lobbying: When it Works and When it Doesn't," with Florida's expert on racing legislation, state Senator Steve Geller, joining Manhattan real estate magnate Jeff Gural, who successfully lobbied New York legislators and opened a state-of-the-art small new track, Tioga Downs, that has won rave reviews, and reopened Vernon Downs in central New York.

Then the all-important subject of integrity in racing, with four tough regulators and Curtis Linell, who handles parimutuel racing integrity issues for the TRA and TRPB. The four no-nonsense regulators are John Blakney, executive director of the pioneering Ontario Racing Commission; Hugh Gallagher, administrator of Delaware's harness racing commission whose stated goal is to woo good owners away from bad trainers; Joe Gorajec, who has revised racing rules in Indiana; and Richard Shapiro, who has led California's racing commission from former lethargy to lofty respect.

That night, HTA stages its Night of Stars and Champions, its version of Thoroughbred racing's Eclipse Awards, honoring owners and others.

Monday morning discussion resumes, with Eugene Christiansen of Chrisiansen Capital Advisers and Bill Shanklin, marketing guru at the University of Akron in Ohio, discussing the effects on racing of Internet disruptive technology, a problem in many field besides racing.

Chris Gannon and John Lapreay of Marsh Insurance, the new managers of HTA's offshore captive, Wagering Insurance NorthAmerica, or WIN, will tell the assembled delegates of the success of that 29-year-old program, which has smoothed out the up-and-down cycles of track insurance.

Following them, there will be a discussion on "The Product of Racing," a session with Tom Aronson of Racing Resource Group addressing "What's Wrong with the Product"; Jerry Bouma of Northlands Park talking about "Success with Media"; and Bill Finley of Sirius Satellite Radio, ESPN, the New York Times and points east and west, talking about racing and radio.

An interesting conclusion to the general sessions will be a two-part presentation on "Technological Investments in Racing," with Don Codey of Freehold Raceway in New Jersey, G. D. Hieronymus of Keeneland in Kentucky, and Todd Roberts of Roberts Communications in Nevada giving their views.

Joe Asher, the brilliant young executive of Cantor Index, and Tim Capps, now of the University of Louisville's Equine Industry Program, will finish off the program before the TRA board of directors meets for two hours of deliberations.

Industry suppliers help underwrite this symposium of equals, and the two sponsoring organizations - TRA, the trade associations of North American Thoroughbred racing, and Harness Tracks of America, its harness counterpart - obviously have found the gathering mutually beneficial. It will be held again next March in St. Petersburg, Fla.

It's a shame those who can't see past their own breedlines don't sit in and learn what cooperation can accomplish.