NTRA Purchasing, Harness Group Close to Deal

NTRA Purchasing, which has reached out to equine organizations outside the Thoroughbred industry, is close to signing up the United States Trotting Association, which has more than 25,000 individual members and 45 member racetracks.

NTRA Purchasing president Joe Morris, who has a background in Standardbred racing, said the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the Columbus, Ohio-based USTA are working out the details. Morris spoke to USTA officials at the organization's annual board of directors meeting in mid-March.

"We're working now with (USTA president) Phil Langley to put together a program," Morris said. "We expect to have it up and going in May. It would increase our buying power and allow all USTA members and racetracks to be eligible for the program."

Langley, director of racing at Balmoral Park and Maywood Park in Illinois, couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

NTRA Purchasing is closely aligned with NTRA sponsorship activities. Members receive discounts on various products, including vehicles and farm equipment. Sales approached $50 million last year.

Morris has sought USTA participation for some time given NTRA efforts to reach out to the equine industry as a whole. The American Quarter Horse Association and United States Equine Federation already are NTRA Purchasing members.

Morris said NTRA Purchasing has a meeting scheduled with Harness Tracks of America, a racetrack trade association similar to the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, to encourage its participation.

The USTA, during its board meeting, was taken to task by Bruce Garland, who retired as senior vice president of racing for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority but is serving as an adviser with a focus on the 2007 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Monmouth Park. Garland is a member of the NTRA board of directors and has served on the USTA board.

The NJSEA operates Monmouth and Meadowlands, the leading harness track in the United States. Garland for years has urged the racing industry to approach issues in unison, rather than by breed. In his comments, provided to The Blood-Horse, Garland said the NJSEA views its tracks not as harness or Thoroughbred, but as "full-service pari-mutuel facilities."

"A bluntly honest appraisal is that you will probably get run over if you do not enthusiastically join the NTRA and/or some ongoing initiatives," Garland told USTA board members. "You just don't have the money or the human resources to independently compete. They have the money, power, and people, and the only valuable properties in racing--the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup.

"You cannot dominate, but you can survive and benefit if you are willing to compromise, negotiate, and take a realistic view of where you are and where things are going. And you must consolidate your limited resources to maximize their value."

Garland said NTRA Purchasing would offer the USTA "the very real potential" of returning a profit on investment. He also suggested harness racing join with Thoroughbred racing to consolidate funds in political action efforts.