The Arkansas Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has officially withdrawn from the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. The horsemen's group intends to stay out of the NTRA as long as Oaklawn Park, the state's only Thoroughbred racetrack, is not a member.
Arkansas HBPA president Bill Walmsley indicated it was a matter of economics for the membership. Walmsley, a member of the NTRA board of directors, tendered his resignation effective March 14 and will be replaced as the National HBPA representative on the NTRA board by John Roark, president of the Texas Horsemen's Partnership.
"It's hard to argue (with Arkansas HBPA members) when NTRA dues are going to be $177,000 that has to come from the purse fund," Walmsley said. "It's really hard to argue for the benefits of NTRA membership when the racetrack doesn't belong to the organization."
Oaklawn, currently open for live racing, terminated its membership in the NTRA in the fall of 2000 along with 21 other racetracks, most of which have since rejoined.
The decision means Arkansas-breds cannot participate in the Great State Challenge, which will be inaugurated in December at Sam Houston Race Park. The new series of races for the top state-breds in the country was designed in part to be a carrot for horsemen's groups that may believe they're not getting their money's worth from the NTRA.
Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of marketing and industry relations for the NTRA, acknowledged Arkansas' departure but said efforts continue to enlist other non-members.
"We're still hopeful others are going to come in," Chamblin said. "We're hoping the Great State Challenge will be looked upon by horsemen as a benefit of membership in the NTRA."
Most of the non-member horsemen's associations are smaller HBPA affiliates, though there are exceptions. The Louisiana HBPA isn't a member of the NTRA even though the state's racetracks, including Fair Grounds, are members. Pennsylvania's two Thoroughbred horsemen's groups, the Pennsylvania HBPA at Penn National Race Course and the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association at Philadelphia Park, aren't members, but the racetracks aren't, either.