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Youth will serve: Jason Barkley, Norm Casse, Bentley Combs on KyHBPA board

Above: Jason Barkley and partner Shelbi Kurtz at Trackside training center. Jennie Rees photo

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021) — A trio of thirty-something trainers has been elected as newcomers to the Kentucky HBPA board with the addition of Jason Barkley, Norm Casse and Bentley Combs.

Rick Hiles was re-elected as Kentucky HBPA president, with Frank Jones re-elected as the owner vice president and Dale Romans as the trainer vice president. Also re-elected to the board were owners Mark Bacon, Buff Bradley (who switches over from the trainer side), Mike Bruder and Travis Foley and trainer John Hancock. Trainer R.C. Sturgeon and owner James Williams will serve as alternates.

Hiles, who has been president for 21 years with another 16 spent serving on the board, said he welcomes getting the millennials involved. Barkley (32), Casse (37) and Combs (33) join 37-year-old Foley, who was elected to a third term.

Norm Casse/Coady Photography

“Everything we’ve got we fought for,” Hiles said. “Every purse, every benefit, every program back here, the HBPA has fought for. I’m glad to see some young guys getting involved. I’m getting old, and so is Marty (executive director Marty Maline). They need to learn, because they’re going to have to take this over. It’s good to see some new young people coming to get involved. I’m tickled. It will be good for the organization.”

Barkley and Combs are graduates of the University of Louisville’s Equine Industry Program in the College of Business. Casse is a graduate of Bellarmine University in Louisville. All three understand well the headwinds encountered when trying to build a stable.

Barkley and Combs said they both learned a lot participating in their first meeting when the board was seated and officers elected on Nov. 23.

“I was just trying to get my bearings, see how everybody goes about their business,” said Barkley, a fourth-generation horseman from the Evansville-Henderson area who began training full-time in 2017. “A lot of those guys have been there for a while. You try to take your cues from them. I want to be an advocate for the horsemen. Sometimes I feel like the big things get handled and maybe the smaller things can fall through the cracks — things we talk about on the rail, (I can) take those to the meetings.

“I hope there are things that I learned at U of L that I can bring over; hopefully give a fresh look to some of the things that the guys have been fighting for.”

Combs, participating remotely from Oaklawn Park, said he was amazed how much he learned from just that session, including possible repercussions with the scheduled implementation of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA).

Bentley Combs/Coady Photography

“I learned a ton of stuff I didn’t even know existed, frankly,” said Combs, who grew up in Lexington and also has an MBA from Ole Miss. “… Being on the HBPA board, you get to see the overall business side of it, as far as the money taken in, where it’s going, the good causes. The health and welfare stuff they were talking about, I had no idea.”

Having stuck his toe in the water, Combs, who began training in 2017, said he’s even more glad he ran for the board, adding, “I want to be a part of the conversation.”

Casse is a third-generation horseman from Louisville who began training in 2018 after 12 years as an assistant trainer for his father, Mark. Casse said his goal is to be “a great representative for the horsemen” and being on the board is one way he can give back to the industry.

“I feel like I’ve got a finger on the pulse, so to speak, of what we need,” he said. “I owe horse racing everything. It’s the right thing for me to do, to start giving my time and helping other people as well.

“It’s not like I have any preconceived notions. I’m very green when it comes to this type of the thing. But I want to look out for the horsemen and the best interest of the trainer. I feel it’s part of my obligation to give the time to do that.”

Jennie Rees is a communications and advocacy specialist in the horse industry who spent 32 years covering horse racing for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal before taking a corporate buyout. In addition to handling communications for the Kentucky HBPA, Rees is Kentucky Downs’ publicity director, manages in-season racing publicity for Ellis Park and serves as a consultant to the National HBPA. Other projects include the Preakness Stakes, Indiana Grand’s Indiana Derby Week and work for various HBPA affiliates and horsemen’s associations.