Guy J. Torsilieri announced today that he will step down from the National Steeplechase Association presidency at the next meeting of the Board of Directors on Jan. 17. A business owner and chairman of the Far Hills Race Meeting, Torsilieri has led the NSA since 2009, a period of growth and innovation within the sport.
He said he will continue as a member of the Board of Directors and will remain active in the affairs of the NSA.
“I concluded that, as we embark on a new decade, it was a good point to turn over the reins to a new generation and new leaders,” Torsilieri said. “I am extremely proud of what the National Steeplechase Association has accomplished during my tenure, and I am also proud of the leadership that has emerged within our sport.
“While I will continue to be deeply involved in steeplechasing and the NSA, I am confident that the future is in good, capable hands.”
Torsilieri took office when all of Thoroughbred racing was burdened by the 2007-2008 recession, and NSA purses have increased more than 20%, from less than $5-million to a record $6.2-million in 2018, during his tenure. The increases have been across the board, and Torsilieri successfully encouraged pari-mutuel tracks such as Saratoga Race Course to maintain a strong jump-racing presence.
Working with the Board of Directors and assisted by Director of Racing Bill Gallo Jr. and a small NSA staff, he has advocated for American Steeplechasing as part of an international sport. His New Jersey meet has led the way in jump racing’s globalization, with the Grand National (Gr. 1) and other races attracting overseas participants.
He attributed the sport’s advances to a strong team on the Board of Directors, including Vice President Doug Fout, a trainer and Middleburg Spring race chairman. “The gains that we made were not my doing alone,” he said. “I was honored to work with a team of level-headed leaders who know the sport intimately and grasped the importance of moving steeplechase racing forward.”
Perhaps his most lasting innovation—and a consequence of his team-building—will be a system of committees to address specific issues within steeplechase racing. While focusing attention on important issues confronting steeplechasing, the committees broadened the participation of all stakeholders in the decision-making process.
Integrity and safety are the watchwords of American Steeplechasing, and Torsilieri successfully advocated for panels of horsemen and officials to address those all-important issues. Launched early in his term was the Stewards Advisory Committee, which is headed by Iroquois Steeplechase Chairman Dwight Hall. The Stewards Advisory Committee has professionalized the role of stewards at race meets and has instituted regular training for all NSA stewards.
Also on his watch, a Hearing, Review & Appeals panel was created to independently review any appeals of stewards’ rulings, taking over that function from the Board of Directors and thus avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Safety is a first priority of the National Steeplechase Association, and the second major committee formed under Torsilieri’s tenure was the Steeplechase Safety Committee, which was launched in 2012 under the leadership of R. Reynolds Cowles, D.V.M.
Trainers, jockeys, stewards, race-meet officials, board members and others are members of the committee, which has researched safety issues within the sport and recommended enhancements to the Board of Directors. Under Torsilieri’s leadership, the board has adopted those recommendations unanimously.
The Promotion and Growth Committee was formed in 2014 and charged with developing strategies for expanding the reach of the sport to include new owners, new participants, and new fans. The Promotion and Growth Committee initially was led by Queen’s Cup Co-chairman Bill Price and now is led by Virginia Gold Cup Co-chairman Al Griffin Jr. Like the Safety Committee, the Promotion and Growth Committee draws upon a wide range of experience and expertise in the sport.
One of the ideas emerging from the Promotion and Growth Committee was the ratings handicap, which was instituted in 2015. A regular feature of overseas racing, the ratings handicap has grown increasingly popular in the United States and has all but displaced claiming races and optional claiming races. The ratings handicaps are favored by owners because they are not at risk of losing their horses at the claims box, and the innovative races offer more opportunities for horses at all levels of competition. The Promotion and Growth Committee also was instrumental in implementing another Torsilieri innovation, high-definition video for stewards at all meets beginning in 2017.
Also under Torsilieri’s tenure, steeplechase racing has broadened its appeal to U.S. and international markets by instituting pari-mutuel wagering at the Virginia Gold Cup and the International Gold Cup in Virginia and at Far Hills. Those meets’ races are broadcast on major wagering platforms with a worldwide reach.
Torsilieri also was instrumental in forming the Future Committee in 2018 with Robert Bonnie as its chair. The Future Committee is developing strategies to assure the vitality of steeplechase racing over the next several decades.
Torsilieri was elected to a new three-year term on the Board of Directors in November 2019, and he said he will remain available to the NSA’s new leadership as steeplechase racing forges into a new decade. “I’m not going away by any means,” Torsilieri said. “I look forward to working with the NSA’s new leaders, and I will assist them in any way that I can.”
Officers for 2020 will be elected at the Board of Directors meeting on Jan. 17.