Frank Stronach committed Magna's tracks to NTRA for two years.

Frank Stronach committed Magna's tracks to NTRA for two years.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Magna Gives NTRA Two-Year Commitment

Ten days after a private meeting with several members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association board of directors and three days after holding an open forum at Gulfstream Park, Magna Entertainment chairman Frank Stronach announced Wednesday in a joint statement with the NTRA that the Magna racetracks will be rejoining the NTRA with a two-year commitment, effective immediately.

The decision by Stronach, based on a commitment from the NTRA to follow through on a pledge to change how the organization is governed and to push for economic deregulation of racing, will add at least $1 million to the NTRA's operating budget in 2001. As part of the agreement for Magna to rejoin, the NTRA said it would revise its winter-spring television schedule on ESPN and ESPN2 to include a "full complement" of races from Magna owned tracks, which include Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park, home to many important prep races for the Triple Crown. If Magna had not rejoined, races for 3-year-olds such as the Hutcheson Stakes, Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby, San Felipe Stakes, and Santa Anita Derby would not have been televised on NTRA sponsored programming on ESPN/ESPN2. The NTRA said it would have further details on programming within days.

Stronach has agreed to accept a request from the NTRA that he join a newly constituted board of directors. Subject to approval from the NTRA's current board, NTRA governance changes would emphasize "greater reliance on the principles of proportional stakeholder representation." The statement indicated no changes would be made to how the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, Thoroughbred Horseman's Association, and Thoroughbred Owners of California board members are elected. The board would likely include racetrack representation with one board member each from Magna, New York Racing Association, Churchill Downs, and four directors elected on a regional basis. Breeders' Cup representatives would be elected by its own board, which also is being revised. The statement did not address the board seat currently held by a representative of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association or The Jockey Club.

According to the statement, the Breeders' Cup executive committee on Jan. 10 unanimously passed a resolution authorizing its officers to proceed with a plan to revise how its board is elected on a proportional basis. The plan would apportion one vote for every foal nominated to the Breeders' Cup program and additional votes to stallion owners based on stud fee.

The agreement for Magna to rejoin the NTRA includes a clause allowing Magna to withdraw at the end of 2001 "in the unlikely event that sufficient progress on the commitments made by the NTRA and Breeders' Cup board to elect directors and pursue free enterprise has not been achieved."

The joint statement was clear in saying not all differences between Magna and the NTRA have been resolved. "While the NTRA-Magna Entertainment dialogue has been cordial and productive, we do not agree on every issue and specific proposal," it read. "However, both organizations believe that these goals can best be achieved with as much industry participation and unity as possible. Both organizations have compromised in the interests of making progress."

The statement referred with hope to the racetracks in the Mid-Atlantic that also announced their withdrawal from the NTRA last year, and said negotiations with those tracks are ongoing. "With respect to the Mid-Atlantic tracks," the statement said, "it should be noted that Magna sympathizes with their position and wants it understood that the NTRA should not compete with its stakeholders in the business of racing or significant related businesses."

The reference was in regards to the relationship between the NTRA and TVG, the full-time racing channel that competes with the Pennsylania-based Racing Network. Specifically at issue is the NTRA's operation of a wagering hub in Oregon that competes with several account wagering systems in Pennsylvania, including the Call-A-Bet system, which Magna is in the process of purchasing from Ladbroke. The statement included no comment from the NTRA in connection with TVG or the operation of the betting hub.