NTRA commissioner Tim Smith: Goal is 100% industry participation.

NTRA commissioner Tim Smith: Goal is 100% industry participation.

Skip Dickstein

NTRA Pushes For Total Support

With only a month before 2001 membership commitments are due, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association apparently has made progress in several key areas, and pledged Thursday morning to strive for 100% industry participation.

On day one of its first annual meeting, held in the Keeneland sale pavilion, NTRA officials announced they are making progress in discussions with Mid-Atlantic racing associations that have called for fundamental changes in the organization, and also decided to equalize the dues paid by horsemen and racetracks.

NTRA commissioner Tim Smith said membership commitments are due by Nov. 10. "These will be one-year commitments," Smith said. "That's meant to say we aren't going to resolve every issue in the next two weeks or four weeks. But by this time next year, we hope to get two- to three-year agreements that are consistent with those of other sports."

Maryland Jockey Club president Joe De Francis, who spearheads an advisory committee that issued a controversial report to the NTRA, said a "tremendous amount of progress has been made" in discussions between members of an advisory committee and an NTRA subcommittee. De Francis indicated Thursday there could be light at the end of the tunnel.

Some Mid-Atlantic racetrack representatives were on hand, as were members of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which represents horsemen at Philadelphia Park. The PTHA left the NTRA fold this year, but executive director Mike Ballezzi has said the organization would consider rejoining if its concerns are addressed.

In an interview earlier in the week, NTRA board member Alan Foreman, who serves as chief executive officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said he plans to emphasize the importance of the Mid-Atlantic region to the NTRA.

"There needs to be a fresh look at the Mid-Atlantic region and the qualilty of racing there," Foreman said. "There seems to be little attention paid to the region, and as I travel around the region, I've been hearing that. I'm sensitive to it."

Under a new plan, horsemen's organizations will pay what their racetrack partners pay in 2001. The National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and the Thoroughbred Owners of California have expressed concern in the last year about the dues system.

For example, TOC president John Van de Kamp said horsemen in California contributed $1.6 million, but racetracks paid $100,000 to $200,000 less under the handle-based system. The new system, he said, "has removed an irritant to some of the horsemen in California who thought an original promise had not been kept."

Steve Bowen, an account executive with Merkley Newman Harty, the NTRA's advertising agency, said progress has been made, but racing must continue to reinvent itself. At one point Thursday morning, he compared Thoroughbred racing to beer-they're rich in tradition but try to appeal to younger consumers.

He said Budweiser, for instance, has two ad campaigns: one is more traditional, and the other-it features frogs-more edgy. Bowen said horse racing might look to a similar approach since it has appeal for all ages.

In regard to finances, NTRA deputy commissioner Greg Avioli said the organization expects to have a $59.2-million budget in light of the soon-to-be-signed agreement to consolidate with Breeders' Cup Ltd. Of the total, more than 41.4% is expected to come from the breeding and auction sector, 24.6% from handle-based fees, 18.4% from Breeders' Cup championship day, 11.9% from television and sponsorship programs, 1.7% from other programs, and 3.7% from Breeders' Cup membership and management fees.

On the expense side, almost 27%--$15.9 million-will go toward national advertising and marketing, and 33.4%--$19.8 million-for Breeders' Cup championship day.

Stallion-season contributions are to be eliminated after 2002. Revenue from interactive wagering hasn't come near projections, and that topic is expected to come up for discussion during the Friday morning session, which also will be held in the sale pavilion.