NTRA Approaches Critical Point on Memberships

With 2006 a little more than three months away, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association continues to push for membership renewals and seek new members in advance of its annual meeting, scheduled for Oct. 10-12 in Lexington.

The NTRA board of directors will meet Sept. 29 at Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky to primarily discuss membership issues. The NTRA would like five-year commitments (2006-10) to dovetail with its new strategic plan.

Thus far, only one racetrack--Philadelphia Park--has announced it would sign up. Philly Park was a member when the NTRA was launched in 1998, then was part of a mass exodus in 2000 when the organization was at a crossroads.

"We won't have any membership update to report until after the meeting Sept. 29," said Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of marketing and industry relations for the NTRA. "It's possible, however, that we'll be announcing some renewals between now and then."

The NTRA projects total operating revenue of $81.5 million by 2010, with Breeders' Cup, with which it has a joint operating agreement, the largest revenue-producer. Membership dues, however, are of the utmost importance--in 2006, they're projected to total $13.45 million.

Beginning next year, dues will be reduced 25% because the NTRA after this year will discontinue the cooperative advertising program that has been popular with racetracks.

Commitments from the largest racing associations or companies--Churchill Downs Inc., Magna Entertainment Corp., and the New York Racing Association--have yet to be confirmed, though NYRA is said to be on board. The big three, by virtue of holdings and pari-mutuel handle, account for a substantial portion of NTRA dues.

In response to an inquiry, CDI chief operating officer Andy Skehan said the company is in discussions with the NTRA on membership renewal. CDI has a seat on the NTRA board that's filled by president Tom Meeker.

In a recent interview with The Blood-Horse, MEC chairman Frank Stronach indicated his company, which operates Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Park, among others, is on the fence.

"There are a lot of people (in the NTRA) that mean quite well," Stronach said. "It's an ongoing process that we should try to improve things. It's better now than it was. We'd like to be a part of it, but again, any organization needs to be analyzed--do we waste money, do we do the right things?

"We have no problem with a horse organization as such, but we think it could be leaner."

MEC and NYRA also have committed seats on the NTRA board.

In a related matter, the board of directors of Breeders' Cup has scheduled a retreat for Oct. 4 to discuss its joint operating agreement with the NTRA, which is nearing the end of its fifth year. Breeders' Cup president and NTRA commissioner D.G. Van Clief Jr. couldn't be immediately reached to comment on the meeting's agenda.