Marty Maline named KTO’s Warner Jones Award recipient

A Kentucky Thoroughbred Owner press release

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Friday, Oct. 27, 2023) — In the understated parlance of the racetrack — where an outstanding horse is reverently termed “a runner” — the ultimate compliment paid a trainer or an owner is being called “a horseman.”

For almost 47 years, until his retirement last Dec. 31, Marty Maline worked tirelessly to improve conditions for owners and trainers racing at the Commonwealth’s thoroughbred tracks as executive director of the Kentucky Benevolent & Protective Association. For that decades-long effort helping horsemen, Maline is being paid the ultimate compliment: He is recipient of the 2023 Warner L. Jones Jr. Horsemen’s of the Year Award presented by the Louisville-based Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners.

“The biggest part is that with the people I have known and respected who have received that award, it was very touching to me and I’m really honored that they would even consider me,” Maline said. “Many, many years ago somebody told me ‘This isn’t your position; this is your life.’ And he was right.”

Maline will be feted at the KTO’s annual awards dinner, Saturday Nov. 18 at the Kentucky Derby Museum. The cost is $150 per person, with cocktails at 6 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m. To purchase tickets or for more information, call Marlene Meyer at 502-458-5820. The deadline for reservations is Nov. 8.

Maline ranked among the country’s best-known and most-respected executive directors of any racing organization. Not only was he the longest-serving Kentucky HBPA executive director, but it’s unfathomable that any HBPA affiliate has had its top staffer in the job longer. 

“I don’t know if anybody is going to be able to do what Marty did,” said KTO president-elect Tom Drury, the veteran Kentucky-based trainer who was a tyke when Maline started at the Kentucky HBPA. “My gosh, when you think about the people he’s helped, and the way he’s helped the industry as a whole, I don’t know anybody else who has had as much effect, especially in Kentucky, whether it’s the racing itself or going to bat for us to get historical horse racing or just making sure the HBPA members on the backside were taken care of.

“Those are some big shoes to fill.”

The Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners is an educational and social organization dedicated to the betterment of racing in the state. Membership is open not only to owners but anyone interested in the sport, including prospective owners.

The Warner Jones award recognizes individuals for outstanding contributions to Kentucky racing and sharing the passion exemplified by Jones, who spent 50 years on the Churchill Downs board, including eight as chairman during the iconic track’s resurgence. Jones was the inaugural KTO award winner in 1988, six years before his death.

“I was actually there when the KTO was originated,” Maline said. “(Horse owner) Stanley Conrad and others had developed this idea of an educational and social organization that wasn’t going to get into business aspect of contracts or anything like that. Of course, I knew Warner Jones from when we first got there with the HBPA. He was tough, but he was always fair in our dealings with him. You could always tell how much he cared for the industry.”

Maline started out in racing’s trenches, grooming horses in the summers at River Downs while growing up and graduating from Ohio State in 1973 with a degree in animal science. The Kentucky HBPA position was part-time when Maline started in February 1976, having previously worked as a zookeeper at the Cincinnati Zoo and an inspector for the health department in northern Kentucky. By the end of his first day, the Kentucky HBPA had its first full-time executive director.

Maline worked under Kentucky HBPA presidents Tommy Stevens, Ed Flint, Stanley Conrad, Pete Salmen Jr., Dr. Alex Harthill, Susan Bunning and Rick Hiles, in his eighth term as president and with whom Maline worked in lockstep.

He says his proudest moment came when a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the Kentucky HBPA in its 1993 lawsuit against Turfway Park over the track trying to send its signal to an out-of-state outlet without horsemen’s approval. The case remains the gold standard in upholding horsemen’s right to control where the signal showing their horses racing is sent.

Maline also helped get the regulations passed to fund the Kentucky Racing Health and Welfare Fund, which assists needy horsemen and their employees. He was a pivotal part of the team that worked with lawmakers in 2021 to pass legislation that protects historical horse racing, a game-changer for Kentucky’s entire racing circuit. He was at the forefront coordinating assistance when a tornado hit Ellis Park and after barn fires at tracks and training centers.

Of importance to every horseman, Maline retired with the satisfaction of being on the team that for years has negotiated the best contracts with racetracks in the country.

Past Warner L. Jones Jr. Horseman of the Year Award recipients

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.