05/07/2010 12:00AM

Churchill Downs Inc. tracks to leave NTRA

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Churchill Downs Inc., the publicly traded owner of four racetracks and a handful of racing-related companies, will not renew its membership in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association for at least one year, officials for the NTRA and Churchill said on Friday.

Membership dues for Churchill's four racetracks totaled $375,000, according to the officials, or approximately 3.75 percent of the NTRA's 2010 annual budget. About half of the $10 million budget is provided by member dues, which are collected from racetracks and horsemen's associations, the NTRA said.

Liz Harris, a spokesperson for Churchill, said the decision was an "economic issue" and that Churchill would reconsider membership next year.

"The door is open, but at this point, it's about spending priorities," Harris said.

Founded in 1997 as a marketing office, the NTRA has since limited its role in racing to state and federal lobbying efforts, the administration of a program that accredits racetracks under a safety and integrity program, and the running of a cooperative-purchasing program for members. In addition, the company plays a role in racing-related television productions and national promotions and publicity efforts.

Churchill's chief executive, Bob Evans, is a member of the NTRA board. He will lose his board seat, the NTRA said.

In the past year, all of Churchill's four racetracks - Churchill Downs in Louisville, Calder Race Course in Miami, Arlington Park near Chicago, and Fair Grounds in New Orleans - have been accredited by the NTRA's Safety and Integrity Alliance. Under the terms of the voluntary program, a track's accreditation stays in effect for two years, at which point the track must apply for renewal.

Keith Chamblin, an NTRA senior vice president, said that he believed that the accreditation status of Churchill's tracks would be determined at the NTRA's June meeting.

Harris said any decision by the NTRA on the accreditation of Churchill's tracks would not impact the company's decisions.

"We invest a lot of money in safety at our racetracks and that is not going to change," Harris said.

Earlier this year, Delaware Park notified the NTRA that it would withdraw its membership this year, Chamblin said.

In addition to its racetracks, Churchill also owns twinspires.com, an account-wagering company, and has a half-interest in HorseRacingTV, the horserace broadcasting company. Later this year, Churchill expects to receive approval for a merger with Youbet.com that will make the company the largest account-wagering operator in the U.S. and add a bet-processing company, United Tote, to its portfolio.