Repole Announces Formation of National Thoroughbred Alliance, Hires Cummings as Executive Director

Mike Repole after winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup earlier this year
Sarah Andrew

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Owner Mike Repole's efforts to form a group that he hopes can help solve some of the sport's problems and create growth in an industry that has been in a downward spiral for decades took a step forward Thursday with Repole announcing that he has formed what he is calling the National Thoroughbred Alliance (NTA). Pat Cummings, who has headed the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation, has been hired as the alliance's executive director.

Repole said he picked the name because he thought using the term alliance sent a message that the organization would be inclusive and because he is an admirer of the original NTA, also known as the National Thoroughbred Association. That organization was founded in the early 90s by Fred Pope and Repole's NTA shares some of the same goals of its predecessor.

“I've reached out to Fred and had a couple of great conversations with him,” Repole said. “What Fred's vision was 30 years ago for the sport was amazing and is a lot of what we need today.”

Repole said he will fund the new organization himself and said he is prepared to spend “millions” to see it succeed.

Even though he is among the most successful owners in the sport and a major buyer each year at the sales, Repole has been open about his frustrations with the industry and his fears that it isn't that far removed from extinction.

“Yes, we have survived, but that still means we've gone from 35,000 mares to 18,000 mares and all these tracks have closed,” he said. “You can call that survival and we have survived over the last 30 years. But there's no way racing will exist in another 15-20 years if we don't make changes now. It's easy for me to say I'll be out of the game in five years because everybody's going to be out in 10 years because it probably won't exist in 10 years.”

Repole said much of racing's problems can be attributed to the fact that no one involved in the industry seems to have a vision or strategy about how to grow the sport as a whole. It is vital, he said, for groups to put aside their self interests and begin to make decisions that will benefit the entire industry.

“This is a sport that has gone from growth to stagnant to now a massive decline,” he said. “How do we now go from keeping the status quo to improvement and then growth? Every successful business has a vision. There isn't anybody that has a vision for this sport. On top of vision, there is also no strategy. You can survive with strategy and no vision. You can't survive with no vision and no strategy.”

Repole is aware that his organization will launch with a distinct disadvantage, in that it will have no power to make any changes on its own and will be trying to make fixes in a sport filled with individual fiefdoms that traditionally look out for nothing more than their own special interests. The key to making progress, Repole said, is getting the various stakeholders to realize the sport will be better off overall if people are aligned and united and that a thriving sport is good for all involved.

“This is about unity, this is about improvement, this is about trying a different take to get everybody to work together,” he said. “This isn't going to be the Mike Repole vision. It's going to be a shared vision. This is a vision of listening, of talking to others. Maybe when they share their vision, which might be selfish, and we then tell them why the other nine spokes on the wheel won't work, we're hoping they'll say 'Now I get it. This doesn't work for the industry.' Once there's an understanding of what's working and what's not working, then we can figure out what we need to do better.

“Over the next 12 months we're going to see who cares about the industry and who cares just about themselves. Getting this sport united and aligned with a vision of what we want this sport to be is going to be so important.”

Repole said the first step toward getting industry leaders unified is to get them all in the same room.

“We need to bring people to the table,” he said. “If you get people together they will help each other. 'How did you handle that problem?' 'Well, this is what we did.' 'What worked here?' 'How did you do this?' The formation of great ideas happens with brainstorming.”

Repole said he had never met Cummings before he began to go to work on forming the NTA, but added that he was immediately impressed by his knowledge and enthusiasm.

“Pat has the compassion and the inspiration to fix this but obviously not the resources,” Repole said. “He's not one of the top owners or someone who invests a lot of money in the sport, which makes it tougher. But he still has the energy and passion. We hit it off right away. He's the perfect guy to lead this initiative.”

Repole's one-hour conference call with racing reporters was part doom and gloom, with just enough optimism sprinkled in that it's clear Repole is very dedicated to this project and passionate about racing's future.

“It's time to turn racing from the Flintstones to the Jetsons,” he said.

But he was not able to offer a lot of specifics concerning the formation of the alliance and just how it could twist enough arms that the changes Repole says the sport desperately needs can come to fruition. He's confident he can figure that out.

“When you're building this new brand or entity, you don't really know what you need or who you need until after you get started,” he said, referring to his creating and then selling the brands VitaminWater and BodyArmour.

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