Katz and Libfeld giving back and paying it forward with Breeders Crown Charity Challenge

Giving back and paying it forward

August 23, 2019

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Marvin Katz and Al Libfeld hope their Breeders Crown Charity Challenge — featuring a donation of earnings and a stallion auction of “the most preeminent stallions in North America” — will be the start of an annual tradition of giving back to major charities during the most important racing weekend of the year.

by Dave Briggs

Prominent Toronto-based owner and breeder Marvin Katz said it is essential for harness racing’s survival and growth that it give back to the greater community through significant charitable efforts. To that end, Katz said he hopes the Breeders Crown Charity Challenge he helped craft with partner Al Libfeld and the management team at Woodbine Mohawk Park will be a successful model that will be adopted and improved upon every year going forward.

“I think it’s essential that any industry, any entertainment venue in today’s environment has to be involved in their community and has to recognize that we are just not in the business of getting people to come to the racetrack and wager on our product,” Katz said. “We have to give back to the communities where these racetracks and all these horsepeople reside. That’s incumbent on any industry, whether it’s racing entertainment, whether it’s the construction industry, whether it’s the technology industry, there has to be a give and take for all of it and recognition that you have a role to play and you have to be cognizant of that and address that.”

The Libfeld-Katz Breeding Partnership is the corporate sponsor of this year’s Breeders Crown extravaganza to be held Oct. 25 and 26 at Woodbine Mohawk Park. As such, the partnership played a crucial role in establishing a charitable effort that has two streams: 1. The donation of one per cent of the earnings of all four of the 2018 2-year-old Breeders Crown champions from June 1, 2019 through Oct. 26 and 2. The proceeds from an auction of 2020 breedings to the sport’s top stallions that will be held at the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale.

“I believe we have the most preeminent stallions in North America right now,” Katz said of the group comprised of pacers Always B Miki, Captaintreacherous and Sweet Lou, plus trotters Muscle Hill, Chapter Seven, Father Patrick and Tactical Landing.

“To assemble that list of breeding shares, I think it’s a testament to the people in our industry and the cooperative and the willingness to do the right things by all of these participants and I’m very thankful and grateful that they stepped forward.”

The auction will be held on Oct. 2 at the Fasig-Tipton Sale Pavilion in Lexington, KY prior to the second session of the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale.

“I want to thank the team at the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale — Randy Manges, David Reid and the ownership team — to allow us to do the auction there. It just speaks to the collegiality in our industry and the importance that people understand in doing something like this. They’ve been terrific in accommodating our requests and working with us. The industry should say a thank-you to them because they deserve it. They are great participants,” Katz said.

“Between the two tracts — the one per cent and the stallion shares — I think we’re going to be able to give back a significant amount of money to the most worthy of causes.”

The connections of 2018 freshman Breeders Crown champions Warrawee Ubeaut, Captain Crunch, Gimpanzee and Woodside Charm, all generously agreed to donate the June through October 2019 earnings to one of four celebrity-led teams. Former CFL star Michael “Pinball” Clemons is paired with Warrawee Ubeaut in support of the Pinball Clemons Foundation, former MLB pitcher Dan Plesac is teamed up with Captain Crunch on behalf of the Ontario Standardbred Adoption Society, former NHLer Eddie Olczyk is paired up with Gimpanzee in support of the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation and Weather Network personality Kim MacDonald is teamed with (recently retired) Woodside Charm on behalf of the Breast Cancer Society of Canada.

Each charity is guaranteed to receive a minimum of $5,000.

To date, those four horses have earned just over $1 million, combined, in 2019.

Beyond the importance of sharing the wealth with charities, Katz said giving generously in the community sends a powerful message to politicians that have supported harness racing through government programs.

“When (politicians) see these significant amounts of money circling back to these important charities it makes them far more receptive to our message and to being participants (to the event),” Katz said. “Hopefully, some of them will be there on the weekend, because I believe most politicians like to be there to hand out a nice, big check to a worthwhile charity.”

The initiative all stems from the Libfeld-Katz Breeding Partnership’s decision a year ago to become the corporate sponsors of the Breeders Crown. The pair was particularly enticed by wanting to do something to help the Woodbine Entertainment Group off-set the cost of playing host to the event and were excited about the Crown being on home turf at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

“I think Mohawk is one of the best tracks to experience harness racing in North America. It’s one of my favorite tracks and has always been one of my favorite tracks and I think most horsepeople would agree. You get close to the horses. It’s a track that was built for harness racing and it’ll present itself very well,” Katz said. “I also want to say that the team at Mohawk is great. They are professional and they are interested in making this a top-flight event. They have been nothing but first class from the moment we began discussing this.”

As part of the sponsorship, Katz said he lobbied WEG management to make the Breeders Crown a two-night event rather than having all 12 finals on a single card.

“I am very much in favor of having a weekend experience,” Katz said. “I’ve already had discussions with people that are going to bring their wives up and make it a weekend… It brings tourist dollars into the community for the hosting city and I think it creates a win-win.

“If you are a great follower of harness racing, every Breeders Crown race, whether it’s the 12th or the 14th of the night will bring its own interest and intrigue. But if you’re a casual fan, I think the mind blurs after about eight or 10 races for $500,000 or $600,000 on the same night.

“I also think it’s important that we, as an industry, understand that the Breeders Crown has to be an event that is not only an experience of giving out large purses to all the different races, but it has to be something that enhances the sport itself and provides the opportunity and a platform for us to expand our profile and provide information as to what the industry is about… I think that just doing that in one night diminishes that opportunity. I think having a weekend of racing, similar to what the thoroughbreds do with the Breeders Cup (is better). Even NASCAR, they don’t just come in and have a race. They have the qualifying races, too.”

Katz said he hopes this year’s Breeders Crown is an important social event for the sport’s participants.

“I think it’s absolutely critical and it’s something that we don’t do nearly enough of. That’s what makes the Hambletonian weekend such an important opportunity. That’s what makes the Lexington experience such an important opportunity — the opportunity for socializing and going for dinner and a drink with someone, to see people that you only see from time to time,” Katz said. “As an owner, part of the enjoyment of participating in our sport is the opportunity to enhance my experience – the social engagement, the opportunity to go to a function or reception afterwards, to be in a hotel where a lot of horsepeople are and be in a bar… Those are all very good things. To go for dinner with two or three couples and bring your wives and your family. Those things make the experience of owning a horse and participating in our sport so much richer.

“Obviously, everyone wants to win and do well, but you have to savor the experience as well. That’s what makes participating in our sport, at every level, so much an enriched experience.”

Katz said the wildly-successful Breeders Crown at Hoosier Park in 2017 was the initial impetus for him and Libfeld to want to try to raise the bar at Mohawk.

“I attended the Breeders Crown at Hoosier and was fortunate enough to win one that weekend. I thought they did an outstanding job and raised the bar… they did such a great job that it’s time for someone else to take it a step further,” Katz said, adding that he hopes the Charity Challenge will be picked up by Hoosier Park, the 2020 Breeders Crown hosts.

“I think that team is paying close attention to what’s happening here at Mohawk. That will be a template to use to take this a step further and so on,” Katz said.

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