Credibility Gap
Photo:
Ray Paulick
Editor-in-Chief
Election of Del Mar Thoroughbred Club executive vice president Craig Fravel as the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's new board chairman was considered such a momentous occasion that it took 19 days for the NTRA to issue a press release on the subject--and only after receiving an inquisitive call from a reporter.

Fravel is replacing D.G. Van Clief Jr., the longtime Breeders' Cup executive who stepped into the role of NTRA chairman following Tim Smith's departure as chairman, CEO, and commissioner in 2004. Van Clief remains NTRA commissioner and CEO, though there is pressure from some Breeders' Cup trustees for Van Clief not to be the head of both organizations. (Van Clief is also on the board of trustees of Blood-Horse Publications.)

Fravel said the delay in announcing the change wasn't the NTRA's fault, that he was heading off on vacation following the March 1-2 board meetings of the Breeders' Cup and NTRA, and that he wanted to speak with his boss, Del Mar president Joe Harper, before the news was made public.

Fair enough.

However, around the same time Fravel was elected NTRA board chairman, Philadelphia Park president Bob Green was named to the NTRA board representing the East region racetracks. No announcement of that significant appointment has yet been made by the NTRA, which has communications staffs in both New York and Lexington.

Green, it should be remembered, was one of the leaders of a Mid-Atlantic membership revolt in 2001 that eventually led to the NTRA's decision not to establish a betting hub in Oregon that would attempt to serve as the industry's account wagering solution. The decision not only limited the NTRA's ability to sustain itself financially, it created a chaotic account wagering environment that forces some fans to hold more than one account to bet on their favorite tracks. The view here is that the decision to abandon a wagering hub was Smith's biggest error as commissioner.

Philadelphia Park rejoined the NTRA this year, and Green's stealth appointment to the board signals that all is forgiven. Green replaces Bruce Garland, a senior executive vice president of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority who announced his retirement in February 2005.

Garland wasn't the only "retiree" serving on the NTRA board. Jim McAlpine, who represents Magna Entertainment on the NTRA board, retired in October as the company's vice chairman of corporate development. McAlpine stepped down a year ago as Magna CEO, yet he remains its NTRA board representative.

Meanwhile, the NTRA's television campaign for 2006 has been virtually left at the starting gate. The kickoff 90-minute telecast to the "Citgo Racing to the Kentucky Derby" series on ESPN March 18 was delayed by more than 45 minutes when the World Baseball Classic ran over its allotted time.

One week later, only 15 minutes of the scheduled one-hour telecast of the March 25 Lane's End Stakes (gr. II) program from Turfway Park was shown because a tennis match lasted longer than expected.

ESPN was under contract to show the baseball and tennis to their conclusion. But both fractured racing telecasts, it should be noted, ended at their appointed hour and were not given additional time.

From a newsprint standpoint, the March 25 weekend races in Dubai and Turfway Park rated a small headline and nine lines of coverage in USA Today's "Update" sportsbriefs. That's less coverage than the regional finals for college hockey received, but four lines more than was given to the women's world curling championships.

The media doesn't appear to be taking horse racing or the efforts of the NTRA very seriously. Perhaps there's a reason for that.

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