Alex Waldrop, former president of Churchill Downs, has been appointed president and chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. In addition, Turfway Park president Bob Elliston was appointed the first executive chairman of the organization.
The NTRA board made the appointments during a special meeting Dec. 27.
"I am honored that the NTRA board of directors has selected me to lead the organization, and I am eager to join the management team to build on its many accomplishments," said Waldrop, currently a partner at the Kentucky-based law firm Wyatt, Tarrant and Combs. "With Thoroughbred racing confronting many challenges, the NTRA's leadership role has never been more important.
"The NTRA will succeed in moving the industry forward by concentrating on issues of paramount importance to its members--racing and wagering integrity, advocacy in Washington, and a heightened industry profile. Issue management, including exploring ways to improve account wagering economics, also will be a priority. I look forward to undergoing a careful review of all of our programs and commitments in the near future."
Waldrop, 50, chairs the law firm's equine, gaming, and entertainment practice group. Its clients include the NTRA and Churchill Downs Inc. He will assume his new duties Jan. 15.
Waldrop replaces current NTRA interim CEO Greg Avioli, who will continue as interim CEO of Breeders' Cup. (The NTRA and Breeders' Cup share resources.) Craig Fravel, executive vice president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, will step down as NTRA chairman but will remain on the board of directors.
In follow-up comments made during a media teleconference, Waldrop said the NTRA is at a "critical point" but positively positioned. He said the 15-member board of directors is an "untapped resource" that will be more engaged.
"If we can get 15 members to agree on anything, we can move mountains in this industry," Waldrop said. "There are ways the NTRA has never been healthier. The Breeders' Cup and NTRA are working together better than ever. The NTRA has to continually strive to be relevant to its members. Its biggest challenges are its biggest opportunities."
The appointment of Waldrop had been rumored for about a month. Elliston said the NTRA board wanted to first identify key priorities, and when it did, members decided Waldrop had the necessary skills.
"Alex brings to the table intellect, political savvy, hands-on racing experience and expertise from within and outside our industry," Fravel said. "He is well-equipped to lead the NTRA during its next phase as the organization seeks to implement a number of important strategic priorities on behalf of the industry."
Prior to returning to Wyatt, Tarrant and Combs, Waldrop spent more than 12 years with Churchill Downs, first as its general counsel, then as president of Churchill Downs, and most recently as the senior vice president of public affairs for CDI.
Waldrop will become the fourth individual to serve as NTRA president and CEO behind Tim Smith, D.G. Van Clief Jr., and Avioli. Waldrop will put together his own management team, but said he couldn't comment on personnel matters at this time.
Elliston has been president and CEO of Turfway since June 1999 and will continue to hold those positions while serving as the NTRA's first executive chairman. He has served on the NTRA board since 2004.
An avid horse racing enthusiast his entire adult life, Elliston was put in charge of Turfway operations shortly after the track was purchased by a partnership comprised of Keeneland, Harrah's Entertainment, and GTECH Corp.
"I look forward to supporting Alex and the management team as they implement the organization's strategic priorities," Elliston said. "The 15-member board is very engaged and very enthusiastic about the NTRA's future."
Elliston basically will serve as a conduit between the board and management, officials said.
"The appointment of an executive chairman is becoming more and more commonplace as companies and organizations seek a clear delineation between board and management responsibilities," Fravel said. "Like Alex, Bob brings to the NTRA a wealth of expertise from within and outside the industry. He will serve as a direct conduit between management and the full board and be available to support management whenever called upon to move the industry forward."