Meeker: NTRA, Defectors Making Some Progress

Discussions between the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and racing associations that plan to defect at the end of this year have been positive and could result in changes to the NTRA, Churchill Downs Inc. president Tom Meeker said Thursday.

Meeker, an NTRA board member who has spearheaded the negotiations, told the Lexington Herald-Leader during an editorial board meeting the racetracks -- 22 announced they would leave -- probably would rejoin early in 2001. But he said there first must be changes in the NTRA's business plan, including abandonment of an Oregon wagering hub the NTRA operates on behalf of the TV Games Network.

"That relationship (with the betting hub) has to be severed," Meeker told the newspaper.

Meeker also said there could be changes in how the NTRA board of directors is structured. The board will expand from 11 to 15 members early next year, but Magna Entertainment chairman Frank Stronach has suggested further changes that include equal representation by the breeder, owner, and racetrack sectors.

Stronach's seven racetracks are among the 22 that announced Oct. 27 their plans to defect.

On Friday, Karl Schmitt Jr., senior vice president of communications for Churchill Downs Inc., said he believed Meeker wouldn't comment further on the NTRA negotiations.

Meanwhile, other officials close to the talks indicated some progress had been made, but they wouldn't provide specifics or hazard at guess at the outcome. In general, Magna has focused its concern on the structure of the NTRA, and the Mid-Atlantic tracks on the NTRA's existing or proposed business relationships.

The NTRA board will meet next Thursday in Tucson, Ariz.