NTRA Directors to Tackle Governance Issues

Organization bylaws and changes in the industry landscape could lead the National Thoroughbred Racing Association to tweak its structure when the board of directors meets in early February for a meeting and long-range planning retreat.

The NTRA board structure was altered early in 2001 when the board was expanded from 11 to 15 seats. No major changes appear in the works, but term limits and the individuals who fill board seats will be up for discussion.

The continued growth of Magna Entertainment, which has a committed NTRA seat filled by president and chief executive officer Jim McAlpine, has fueled a need for change. In addition, some seats have term limits and others do not, which has led to concern by at least one member organization.

Magna recently purchased the Maryland Jockey Club, whose president, Joe De Francis, currently represents the Mid-Atlantic region on the NTRA board as an "independent." Magna also purchased Lone Star Park, which falls in the Southeast region. Lone Star executive Corey Johnsen was believed to be a future candidate for the independent seat now occupied by Fair Grounds president Bryan Krantz, but Johnsen now works for Magna.

De Francis said there is no change in his status. McAlpine couldn't be reached for comment.

Only three other racing associations in the Mid-Atlantic region are NTRA members: Delaware Park, Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort, and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which operates Monmouth Park and Meadowlands.

The NJSEA tracks withdrew from the NTRA in 2000 and rejoined in 2002. Some consider a representative of the NJSEA a likely candidate to fill the Mid-Atlantic seat if De Francis vacates the spot.

"I haven't had any contact with the NTRA about it," said Bruce Garland, senior vice president of racing for the NJSEA.

Magna, Churchill Downs Inc., and the New York Racing Association do not have to replace their representatives on the NTRA board. The independent racetracks and horsemen's associations do, however, and the difference in policy has generated concern from the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

THA chief executive officer Alan Foreman has filled the seat since the NTRA was formed in 1998. Foreman's second term is up in April, but the THA board at a December meeting indicated it wants him to keep the seat.

"I'm prepared to step aside and let someone else do it, but if the organization I represent wants me to do it, I won't say no," Foreman said. "As long as everyone believes I'm making a constructive contribution, I'll stay on."

Other horsemen's associations with seats on the NTRA board are The Jockey Club, the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, and the Thoroughbred Owners of California. Breeders' Cup has two seats under the 2001 restructuring.

The independent racetrack seats are held by tracks other than those operated by Churchill, Magna, or NYRA in the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Southeast, and West regions. Nick Nicholson, president of Keeneland, fills the Midwest seat, while Craig Fravel, executive vice president of Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, has the West seat.

De Francis filled the Mid-Atlantic seat only after it was determined a sufficient number of tracks from the region were NTRA members. The Mid-Atlantic region historically accounts for more than 20% of total pari-mutuel handle in the United States.

NTRA commissioner Tim Smith withheld comment pending discussion by the board, but he did say the governance issue was discussed when the board met in Tucson, Ariz., in December, and that it would come up again as part of a short business meeting before the Feb. 13-14 retreat.

Other NTRA board members are Smith, Tom Meeker (Churchill), Terry Meyocks (NYRA), Robert Clay (TOBA), Robert Lewis (TOC), John Roark (National HBPA), and D.G. Van Clief Jr. and G. Watts Humphrey Jr. (Breeders' Cup).

Clay's term is up in April, but TOBA and the NTRA said John Amerman would fill that spot on the board after the February meeting. Amerman, a member of the TOBA board of trustees and its executive committee, served as chairman and chief executive officer of toymaker Mattel.

He and his wife, Jerry, have campaigned stakes winners Lido Palace, Siphonic, Printemps, and Happyanunoit, among others. The Amermans have won 15 grade I stakes.

"It would be hard to imagine a better board member than Robert Clay, whose tenacious and persuasive commitment to the concept of a national office for horseracing literally helped create the NTRA," Smith said. "By the same token, the NTRA is very fortunate to be gaining a director with John Amerman's business and marketing credentials and expertise, along with an impressive record as a Thoroughbred owner."

Van Clief and Humphrey were named to the board in 2001 for three-year terms. Van Clief said the two Breeders' Cup seats, according to the bylaws, are subject to rotation.