Other Mid-Atlantic Tracks Remain on Fence

In the wake of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority's announcement that it will rejoin the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Jan. 1, 2002, other Mid-Atlantic associations indicated they're not quite ready to follow suit.

The NJSEA-operated Meadowlands and Monmouth Park were among the 22 racing associations that left the NTRA fold last year. The Mid-Atlantic region accounted for most of the defections.

"At this point, my inclination (to rejoin) would probably be no, but the door is left open for sometime in the future," said Hal Handel, chief executive officer of Philadelphia Park.

"We're considering it, but right now, we're non-committal," said Bill Fasy, chief operating officer of Delaware Park.

The Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, a National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association affiliate that represents horsemen at Philadelphia Park, is no longer an NTRA member. The Delaware Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association has remained an NTRA member even though the racetrack decided to terminate its membership.

"In addition to the New Jersey tracks, we've been working with Delaware," said Alan Foreman, an NTRA board member who serves as chief executive officer of the THA. "The signs are very positive."

Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, both operated by the Maryland Jockey Club, were the first Mid-Atlantic tracks to rejoin the NTRA. That came after Magna Entertainment's Frank Stronach, now an NTRA board member, recommitted his racetracks.

NTRA officials have said talks with other tracks have taken place, but they wouldn't discuss the details.

Richard Orbann, president and chief operating officer of Penn National Gaming's newly created racing division, said he'd be willing to discuss membership renewal.

"Since I've been in this position in June, nobody from the NTRA has ever called me about the possibility of Penn National rejoining, and frankly, I'd be glad to talk to them," Orbann said. "Historically, this track has always been supportive of industry initiatives and trends, and I'd be willing to discuss membership with the NTRA."

Bruce Garland, senior vice president of racing for the NJSEA, said two issues that led to the organization's defection late last year -- the NTRA's operation of a wagering hub and protection of states' rights -- have been resolved satisfactorily. Otherwise, the NJSEA never was opposed to the concept of the NTRA.

"There are frankly, a few things we're concerned about or disagree with, but if we're part of the organization, we have a better chance of having our voice heard," Garland said. "They've done some things in good faith -- for example, three of our races from Monmouth were part of their television coverage."

Garland also said he's pleased with efforts by the NTRA and Breeders' Cup to make this year's World Thoroughbred Championships an event tied to relief efforts in the New York metropolitan area in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Though the New Jersey tracks won't officially rejoin until Jan. 1, the NTRA, Breeders' Cup, Meadowlands, and horsemen and breeders are scheduled to participate in a fund-raising effort tied to the Sept. 28 Meadowlands Cup. Garland said the track and horsemen will donate their share of pari-mutuel proceeds to the NTRA Charities-New York Heroes Fund, with $100,000 guaranteed.

The New Jersey THA remained a member of the NTRA even though its partner tracks defected. The NJSEA will pay about $350,000 in annual dues to the NTRA.

The announcement of the NJSEA decision to rejoin the NTRA came less than a month after officials with the NTRA and Breeders' Cup said Monmouth was being considered as a future site for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. Host sites must be NTRA members.