Issues Break Through Breed Barriers for TRA, HTA

The first joint meeting of the boards of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations and Harness Tracks of America was considered a success, but whether the two organizations continue to meet jointly on a regular basis remains to be seen.

The March 13 meeting in Hollywood Beach, Fla., came about from discussions between the racetrack trade associations to work together on common issues. The turnout for panel discussions held March 13-14 was particularly healthy, as was attendance at the individual board meetings.

"It makes sense," said Chris Scherf, executive vice president of the TRA. "We got a pretty good turnout, and from the TRA's perspective, we got increased turnout. It was stronger than just a trial balloon, but now we have to assess it. It worked well from the perspective of racetrack companies with members in both the TRA and HTA."

"As far as I'm concerned, the meeting was very successful," said Stan Bergstein, executive vice president of the HTA. "I'll invite the TRA to join us in the future, but it's the TRA's decision."

One racing executive said privately there was some resistance by officials to participate in the joint board meeting because of the breed difference. It was ironic, then, that every issue addressed by the two boards and the panelists affected Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing.

"I think we're the last group to get under one heading," said Richard Schnaars, president of Penn National Race Course. "I think it's a natural for people who run racing facilities to have joint meetings because we now have issues that transcend both breeds. If simulcasting hasn't brought us together, then federal laws and environmental standards have brought us together."

Scherf said the TRA, among other things, discussed Environmental Protection Agency restrictions on backstretch operations. Scherf called the regulations "a huge problem" for the industry.

"The first thing we have to do is ask what does this exactly mean?" Scherf said. "You have to interpret what each word means and then talk to the EPA. Coming into compliance, under a worst-case scenario, would be incredibly expensive for most tracks."

Magna Entertainment has already dealt with water run-off problems that forced a temporary shutdown of Portland Meadows. MEC president Jim McAlpine said the company has built a compost facility at its Palm Meadows training center in Boynton Beach, Fla., to control equine waste.

"It's one way to turn a bad product into a soil supplement," McAlpine said. "The old days of trucking this stuff out to mushroom farms are going to disappear. I'm all for responsible environmental management."

John Long, president of Churchill Downs Inc., said the company spent $7.5 million to correct water and sewer problems at Hollywood Park soon after its purchase. He also said CDI spent $4.5 million last year just to remove manure from its facilities.

In regard to medication, Scherf said the TRA was provided with information as to the progress of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and is in the process of discussing how intends to fund its contribution to the group. Scherf said no decision on a funding formula was made, though the TRA remains a member of the consortium.

The HTA, meanwhile, is not a member of the consortium, apparently because of concerns of how the consortium's resources would be spent on research and testing initiatives. Bergstein, who has participated in consortium meetings in the past, said the HTA remains open to membership and would further discuss the matter.

Scherf said the TRA also discussed technology for the progressive scanning of wagers. Joe Harper, president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, replaces Fair Grounds president Bryan Krantz as president of the TRA for the coming year.