Dissidents Present Case to NTRA Board; Stronach Discussions Continue

No major developments emerged from a meeting of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association board of directors, held Thursday in Tucson, Ariz., in conjunction with the University of Arizona Racetrack Industry's Symposium on Racing. The board was presented with a report prepared by many of the 22 racetracks that said they are dropping out of the NTRA at the end of the year. The report contained a number of recommendations the dissident tracks said might convince them to rejoin the organization.

Thomas Meeker, president of Churchill Downs and a member of the NTRA board, has been meeting with a number of the dissidents to work out the differences, which primarily involve governance and the NTRA's affiliation with the TV Games Network.

"We presented the issues to them," said Bill Bork, an NTRA board member and president of Penn National, one of the Mid-Atlantic tracks leaving the NTRA. "There was a lot of discussion, but the NTRA really wanted to wait on this. Tom Meeker and the committee will continue to negotiate."

NTRA commissioner Tim Smith said "substantial progress" has been made, particularly in the negotiations between Meeker and an independent advisory committee consisting largely of Mid-Atlantic tracks and chaired by Joe De Francis, president of the Maryland Jockey Club. "The ongoing discussion will continue with the independent advisory committee," said Smith.

Based on revenues that have been committed for 2001, the NTRA board approved what was called a conservative budget of $53 million, which also includes the Breeders' Cup as a result of the organizations' recent merger. The budget will be revisited at the NTRA's next board meeting in February. Smith said he hopes the membership issue involving the 22 defecting tracks is resolved before then. Stronach has called for an open forum in January at Gulfstream Park to discuss the issues.

Meanwhile, Smith said the NTRA is continuing discussions with Magna Entertainment chairman Frank Stronach, whose company owns seven of the dropout tracks. Stronach wants the NTRA board to be restructured.

While Smith invited Stronach's involvement on the NTRA board ("He would be a welcome addition to our board, and hope he considers it," Smith said), he noted there are questions about the viability of the Magna chief's proposal. Under Stronach's NTRA sructure, racetracks would have 33% representation, but non-profits, such as the Breeders' Cup, and horsemen's groups would have no representative, Smith said.

During Thursday's night's banquet, John Gaines, who was instrumental in forming both the Breeders' Cup and NTRA, offered an olive branch to Stronach. Gaines said Stronach's decisions will have a "profound effect on where racing is heading" and he prodded Stronach into taking a conciliatory approach.