NTRA OKs Budget, Reaffirms Commitment

The organization will operate on about $8 million in 2012, officials said.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association board of directors has approved an $8 million budget for 2012 and reaffirmed its commitment to move forward, even in the absence of several high-profile members.

The board, which met Dec. 5 in Tucson, Ariz., on the eve of the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing & Gaming, signed off on a spending plan that relies more on revenue from programs than membership dues. The ratio is now 75%-25%, officials said.

This year’s budget was about $9 million, though the organization expects to come in under budget, NTRA president and chief executive officer Alex Waldrop said.

“It’s an $8 million balanced budget that signifies some belt-tightening on our part, but we haven’t eliminated any programs,” Waldrop said. “It reflects a commitment from the management team to generate revenue from programs and a variety of partnerships, such as the one with The Jockey Club.”

The NTRA and The Jockey Club earlier this year teamed to expand the NTRA communications department. It’s part of an ongoing process as various industry organizations look for ways to eliminate overlap and streamline activities.

The NTRA board still has 15 seats, though three are vacant. Churchill Downs Inc. and The Stronach Group—formerly Magna Entertainment Corp., and then MI Developments—were out in 2010. This year the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association didn’t pay its dues and subsequently dropped out of the organization, Waldrop said.

The National HBPA discussed NTRA dues earlier this year, acknowledging it could be difficult to convince affiliates to ante up. All the other horsemen-related groups have retained their membership, Waldrop said.

Though CDI and The Stronach Group no longer are members, they participate in programs via pay-for-play. The NTRA generates revenue through such arrangements.

Waldrop and Bob Elliston, executive vice chairman of the NTRA, said the organization remains viable and, in keeping with a recommendation in this year’s McKinsey & Company report commissioned by The Jockey Club, will continue to lead where it can and combine efforts with other stakeholders. Legislative initiatives remain a focal point of the NTRA, they said.

“We are refocusing our efforts on what we do for the industry,” Elliston said. “We’re currently in the middle of conversations in Washington, D.C., because we’re the voice of the industry on legislative matters. We allocate resources to have proper representation in Washington.

“We haven’t lost our voice in key areas, and we step into areas that need leadership. Those efforts have not been stilted or dampened by who’s in and who’s out (of the NTRA).”

Waldrop noted the NTRA is plagued by earlier expectations it would become a “central authority” that would govern the industry. It was apparent after about five years that wouldn’t happen and, despite adopting revised strategic plans and new goals, the expectations never went away.

“Just because that didn’t happen doesn’t mean the NTRA doesn’t do valuable things on a daily basis,” Waldrop said. “It’s a very effective trade association that is instrumental in bringing together a broad sector of the industry.”

Waldrop and Elliston said the NTRA in 2012 will attempt to further programs dealing with racehorse retirement and re-training, as well as find ways to encourage more participation in the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance. Waldrop said 25 racetracks should be fully accredited early in 2012, with another five having applied for accreditation next year.

Because the NTRA board opted to end its fiscal year Jan. 31, 2012, the annual report issued by the alliance won’t be ready by the end of 2011.