Capitol Hill Becomes NTRA's Big Selling Point

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association's ongoing efforts in Washington, D.C. have become the major carrot as the organization seeks to sign up horsemen's associations for five-year memberships effective in 2006.

The NTRA and other industry groups are currently fighting to protect the Interstate Horseracing Act, legal Internet wagering on horse races, and ultimately interstate simulcasts, which account for more than 85% of total pari-mutuel handle. On July 23, NTRA executive vice president Greg Avioli announced another initiative: a three-pronged federal legislation that would primarily benefit horsemen.

The Equine Equity Act, co-sponsored by United States Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, and U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat, could be introduced soon on Capitol Hill. The legislation calls for reduction of the capital-gains holding period from two years to one year; reduction of the depreciation period for racehorses from seven years to three years; and classification of horses as livestock.

Avioli, who addressed the membership of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association during its summer convention in Toronto, Ontario, said the livestock designation would make the horse industry eligible for emergency aid afforded other industries. The other two provisions would financially assist owners and breeders that invest about $2 billion a year on horses.

Avioli and NTRA commissioner D.G. Van Clief Jr. were on hand to lobby for horsemen's support. Van Clief indicated the NTRA is seeking maximum involvement from industry stakeholders.

Though the National HBPA has about 30 affiliates, fewer than 10 are currently NTRA members. The National HBPA is exploring a three-tiered plan that would make every affiliate an NTRA member beginning in 2006, but as of July 23, the proposal was in the development stages.

On the racetrack side, the NTRA has thus far announced only one member for the upcoming five-year cycle--Philadelphia Park, which decided to rejoin after a five-year hiatus. Officials said they continue to encourage existing member tracks to renew their memberships.

The two largest racetrack companies in terms of holdings--Magna Entertainment Corp. and Churchill Downs Inc.--own about 20 tracks and therefore contribute a large chunk of NTRA membership dues. Both companies remain on the fence.

"A decision hasn't been taken," MEC vice chairman Dennis Mills said during an interview the week of July 18. "Obviously, there is some debate over how dollars are being spent."

A spokeswoman for CDI didn't immediately respond to a request for information as to the company's plans for NTRA membership. The NTRA requires, however, that any Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships host be a member; Churchill Downs in Kentucky is scheduled to host the event in 2006.

NTRA officials continue to send the message that legislative initiatives in Washington, D.C. affect racetracks as well as horsemen. National HBPA president John Roark, who sits on the NTRA board of directors, said it all comes down to "survival of the industry."

"If nothing else about the NTRA means anything to you, (legislative efforts) should," Roark told horsemen and industry guests.

NTRA officials have said they hope to have the membership drive wrapped up this summer. The five-year scheme is linked to a new strategic plan approved by the NTRA board of directors earlier this year.