David McCaffrey, a horseman with extensive experience directing lobbying efforts, managing public messaging, negotiating contracts with tracks and otherwise advocating for Illinois horsemen, will serve as executive director of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.
The ITHA Board of Directors voted unanimously to confirm McCaffrey. He begins work this week.
“The stakes are high for Illinois horse racing – for owners and trainers, especially, and the tens of thousands of jobs we support at the tracks and across Illinois agribusiness,” he said. “We remain hopeful the tracks will join us as partners to advance the sport we all love and treasure. We provide the product and they provide the platform. Simply put, we need each other; we would be well served to work together toward fair and equitable solutions to our industry's challenges.”
McCaffrey, 48, is a distinguished horseman and industry leader. A standardbred trainer and owner for the last 25 years, he has served in leadership roles with the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association for nearly two decades. He was elected director of the IHHA in 1997, elected vice president in 2000, and elected president in 2008. He has more than 1,800 wins as a harness trainer and is a member of the IHHA Hall of Fame.
Over the last three years, McCaffrey led the harness horsemen through a difficult and complicated transition that culminated in closure of the Balmoral and Maywood harness tracks and the return of harness racing to Hawthorne Race Course. The 22-card harness meet in January at Hawthorne surpassed expectations, according to Hawthorne, averaging more than $916,000 on the mainly 10-race programs. Handle topped $1 million on four separate weekend nights in late January.
Aside from the obvious differences between thoroughbred and standardbred racing, horsemen working on the two sides of the industry have the same basic interests and concerns. Both forms of racing in Illinois are governed by the same regulatory agency, the provisions of contracts between horsemen's organizations (whether the ITHA or IHHA) and respective tracks are similar, and both groups are advocating for passage of gaming legislation that will authorize slots at tracks to bolster purses while ending the recapture subsidy for tracks and mandating a fair number of live racing opportunities.
“Illinois has demonstrated to the nation the benefits of synergy between thoroughbred and harness horsemen,” McCaffrey said. “The close working relationship of the ITHA and IHHA, going back several years, is unprecedented. We have been united in our efforts before the Illinois Racing Board and at the Capitol.”
McCaffrey brings to the ITHA extensive relationships among lawmakers and stakeholders throughout Illinois racing, knowledge of the legislative and regulatory processes, and the acumen and skills necessary to effectively advocate for horsemen. He will be responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the ITHA in close collaboration with the ITHA Board of Directors, while advocating for thoroughbred owners and trainers before track management, regulators and elected officials.
“Our principal priority as Illinois horsemen is passing the gaming bill to position Illinois racing to compete with jurisdictions already using slots at tracks to dramatically improve purses,” McCaffrey said. “But as we continue working to accomplish that goal, we must also do everything we can to maximize live racing, protect and enhance purses, and preserve our state's breeding industry.”
McCaffrey replaces Glen Berman, who now is executive director of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, and who served the ITHA with great distinction as executive director and general counsel for the last six years.
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