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ARCI Spotlight: Len Foote winner Marc Guilfoil
Tuesday, April 17, 2018 - from the ARCI

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Lexington, KY --- Marc Guilfoil’s love affair with horses started well before he hocked his high school senior ring to have money to go to Keeneland one afternoon while attending the University of Kentucky. He correctly figured he’d miss being at the track more than he’d miss the ring.

“I was thinking about that today when I was driving somewhere and passed the pawn shop,” Guilfoil said with a laugh. “If I could find just a little bit of money in my pocket, whether it be the Red Mile or Keeneland, I was there every day I could get there.”

ARCI photo
Marc Guilfoil was the recipient of the Association of Racing Commissioners International’s 2018 Len Foote Award for exemplary service and contribution to racing integrity.

The executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s fascination with the sport and industry traces to his youth in Glasgow, Ky., the son of a large and small animal veterinarian whose equine practice mainly included quarter horse but also some Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds. For Guilfoil, the appeal is the love of the animal and those working with horses; he does not bet on the tracks he helps regulate.

Having worked in an array of capacities at the track has served Guilfoil well as a regulatory administrator. Those efforts were recognized recently with fellow executive directors voting him recipient of the Association of Racing Commissioners International’s 2018 Len Foote Award for exemplary service and contribution to racing integrity.

The late Len Foote was an investigator who became the long-time executive director of the California Horse Racing Board. The award bearing his name is the highest honor an executive director can get. Guilfoil was nominated for the award by Maryland’s Mike Hopkins, the 2017 Len Foote winner who is the new ARCI chair.

“I was completely caught off guard, very surprised,” Guilfoil said of receiving the award on the closing day of ARCI’s 84th annual Conference on Racing Integrity and Equine Welfare in Hot Springs, Ark. “It means a lot, not as an individual but it means a lot as any person in my shoes. We’re trying to get common sense interjected into racing as much as possible. There are a lot of ways to go about things, but any time you can plug some common sense into the equation, you likely have the best solution. This award is not just about me; it’s about people who think like me that makes me so happy and honored to receive it.

“If you count the years the people in that organization have been executive directors, that’s a lot of years there. That means a lot too, that I have the respect of those guys. And it means a lot that Mike Hopkins thought enough of me to nominate me.”

Said Ed Martin, ARCI president and CEO: “Marc has worked his way up through the chairs and has the ability to differentiate between right and wrong, all while being fair to all he comes in contact with. He calls it like it is and is not afraid to do the right thing, even if there are those who might disagree.”

That forthrightness shows with one of Guilfoil’s major goals: not only attaining uniform medication rules across the country but uniform testing. He says the industry can’t have true uniformity until every jurisdiction tests to the same levels and uses the same methodology. Guilfoil also strongly believes that can be achieved in the current regulatory structure, with regulators, lab directors and the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium working together.

Speaking as an individual and not for the KHRC, he says he has “no problem whatsoever” in Kentucky joining the multi-state compact spearheaded by the Mid-Atlantic states “if it solves the problem with uniform labs. We’ve got to get the uniform labs before we can have uniform medication regulations.”

Guilfoil, a 1987 graduate of the University of Kentucky with a degree in agriculture and emphasis in communications, has a diverse portfolio, including being an accredited official for all three breeds of horse racing.

He spent his collegiate summers working as an intern in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture under equine program manager Rusty Ford. His first racing job came shortly after graduation with the old Kentucky Harness Racing Commission in 1988 as director of facilities. Soon thereafter, he completed the United States Trotting Association’s judges school to become the youngest presiding judge in history.

“I’m sure it’s been surpassed now, but back then I was,” he said, adding cheerfully, “Because back then, if you didn’t have gray hair and glasses, you didn’t belong in the stand.”

Guilfoil stayed on as director of racing and a racing official as the harness and Thoroughbred commissions were merged in 1992 under Gov. Brereton Jones.

“The only thing I really haven’t been at the track is racing secretary,” he said. “I’ve done everything from charting races to the whole nine yards. Any kind of racing position there’s been, if there’s an opening somewhere or somebody needs someone to fill in, I’m there. I was sort of a catch-all guy, jack of all trades.”

Guilfoil, who had retired briefly from state government to operate a business, became deputy director under the late Lisa Underwood, the 2009 Len Foote recipient. Guilfoil’s original six-month commitment to return to the commission has stretched to a decade and counting.

“That’s another thing that means a lot to me about that award: Lisa got it, and I was her deputy when she got it,” he said. “To be in the same sentence as some of the people who have received that award is a pretty big deal to me.”

Guilfoil was appointed the KHRC’s top administrator two years ago after Gov. Matt Bevin took office. But he long has been a go-to person through many gubernatorial administrations and versions of the Kentucky commission.

“You have to have thick skin and broad shoulders to start with,” he said. “You can do a lot of good. When you’re trying to make a decision, if you put the horse at the center of your decision, you’re going to make the right decision. We’re the voice of the horse.

“There are very few cheaters. I’ve been around long enough that I think I’ve earned the right to say that, where some people might think the sport is dirty. It’s not. Like anything else in life, whether baseball, football or whatever, there’s going to be someone trying to get an edge. There are very few people in this sport that way.”

Going back to his roots, Guilfoil raises cattle on the farm where he lives with wife Elisabeth Jensen, the executive vice president of the Kentucky Equine Education Program and president of the Race for Education program.

“This is all I’ve done since the day I got out of college, all I’ve done my whole life is mess with horses or livestock,” Guilfoil said. “I’ve got cattle now, too, and cattle is my second love. I guess if I wasn’t doing this, I’d hopefully be trying to raise a very competitive purebred black Angus herd.”

Guilfoil says the one thing he misses often being in an office is the camaraderie of the racetrack.

“When I am in the office, and I’ll get a call from somebody at the track and they’ll go, ‘You don’t understand,’” he said, “I go, ‘Whoa, hold on. I was 23 years on the racetrack. Don’t tell me what I don’t understand. I know exactly what’s going on.’”

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