10/15/2008 12:00AM

Racing can accomplish more working together


TUCSON, Ariz. - Like most of us in racing, I have spent an inordinate amount of my life chasing dreams. A few have even been caught.

My hope has been to live long enough to see the leaders of the two major breeds - Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds - realize the benefits of cooperative and concerted action, on all fronts.

That lesson was learned first in 1963, when an equine flu epizootic devastated both the running and trotting/pacing populations in this country, creating a crisis great enough to bring the two sports together in the Reading Room at Saratoga Springs.

Their track associations - Thoroughbred Racing Associations and Harness Tracks of America - turned to two young veterinarians then at the University of Kentucky - John Bryans and James Rooney - to save them.

And they did.

Working jointly and financed by both running and harness tracks, the pair came up with a vaccine for A1 and A2 equine influenza. The runners hired Bryan Fields to raise Thoroughbred money, track by track. I tacked the allocation onto my HTA dues. Whether the mutuality of our backgrounds as race callers and commentators had anything to do with it is dubious, but we both got our jobs done.

Two years later, TRA and HTA showed up together again, this time in Washington. HTA had one of the capital's most powerful lawyers, James Rowe, as its capital counsel at the time, and he and his colleague Dick O'Hare helped carry the day. The issue this time was an onerous federal excise tax on racetrack admissions, and its successful removal through joint action helped pay the dues of TRA and HTA tracks to this day.

Later, in 1969, when John Brennan had taken over the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau from Spencer Drayton, we hammered out the beginnings of what now is in effect a joint security effort - TRPB and SIS, Standardbbred Investigative Services.

A decade or so later, HTA and TRA made a joint pitch at a Federal Communications Commission meeting in Carmel, Calif., and we came away with a rule that whatever was legal in advertising state lotteries applied as well to licensed racing associations. Individual stations circumvented it to a degree through their own rules, but the concept and intent still is, to my knowledge, on the FCC books.

TRA's Chris Scherf and I have worked together on other mutual - and mutuel - undertakings, including the annual Simulcasting Conference that draws 300 or so and celebrated its 15th anniversary two weeks ago in Florida, as well as our joint HTA-TRA meetings and Racing Congresses, the next to be held at the Bellagio in Las Vegas in February.

There are other bright spots of cooperation, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium being one of the most promising at present.

We also have badly blown one or two other opportunities as well, missing the chance - at a TRA meeting at Santa Anita 25 years or so ago, before simulcasting made it a no-brainer - to have the same saddle pad colors in the two sports. Decisions like these are not engraved in stone, or should not be, but once initiated they are guarded with absurd inflexibility. So we labor on, seeking mutual goals but doing so sometimes with the reservations of old ways and old breed prejudices.

With all of those ecumenical efforts as background, it was a hugely satisfying moment 10 days ago when from my auctioneer's stand at the recent HTA College Scholarship Art Auction at Tattersalls in Lexington, Ky., I saw Legends Racing's Thoroughbred breeder Olin Gentry walk in. Not only walk in, but buy the sale topper, a beautiful Richard Stone Reeves painting of the great pacer Albatross, a work commissioned 35 years ago by the horse's trainer and driver, Hall of Fame immortal Stanley Dancer.

Gentry bought a half-dozen other choice pieces as well, winding up the second-biggest buyer of the auction, which featured 200 works of equine art. Whether he bought them for himself or as gifts for his Legends partner Tom Gaines, who has strong harness racing blood coursing through his veins, is immaterial. HTA had sent Gentry a catalog in the hope he might appreciate the work and cross the aisle, and he did. It was a deeply satisfying moment to see a major Thoroughbred figure partake of the culture of another breed.

Progress takes many forms, and Lincoln, of course, was right. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Trite or not, horse racing should remember that in these times of stress and peril. The things that join us, or should, far outweigh the differences that separate us.