Churchill Reviewing NTRA Membership

Churchill Downs Inc. is reviewing its membership in the NTRA for 2009.

Churchill Downs Inc. is reviewing its membership in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, racing industry officials said Dec. 9.

The company has been in that position in the past—as have many other industry stakeholders, including Magna Entertainment Corp. and racing associations in the Mid-Atlantic region. Rumors at the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing and Gaming are as plentiful as cacti in Tucson, and the latest one has CDI looking to leave the NTRA.

Churchill Downs vice president of communications John Asher, when contacted by telephone Dec. 9, said company policy is not to comment on rumors. However, he said it’s not unusual for CDI to regularly review its membership in associations.

“I’m not saying we’re not looking at it, but we do take a look at these things from time to time,” Asher said. “Churchill Downs has been a member of the NTRA since its inception, pays the highest membership fee, and was an initial signatory of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance. Look at our record (with the NTRA).”

Defections—real and rumored—often were the case when the NTRA was in turmoil at the end of the 1990s and early in this decade. But thus far this year, there has been no indication any stakeholders plan to bail on the NTRA in 2009.

The organization, which has been streamlined in recent years and has money in the bank, began a dues-reduction program several years ago that increased membership.

NTRA executive vice president Bob Elliston, who attended the Arizona symposium, said he had not been informed CDI had left the NTRA. He did say NTRA officials have attempted to explain to Kentucky-based CDI the value of remaining a member of the organization.

Elliston noted that NTRA members have enjoyed a “significant reduction in dues for the year 2008.”

Several years ago, the biggest stakeholders, including CDI and MEC, paid about $1.2 million a year in NTRA dues. That figure dropped to $800,000, and this year, it is $400,000. Other groups such as the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association have seen drastic reductions in dues.

The most any group pays is $400,000 under the current structure.

The NTRA, with a new strategic plan, has refocused its efforts on lobbying and political action; consensus-building; and marketing. In October, it launched the Safety and Integrity Alliance, a broad effort designed to bring reforms in equine health and safety.