Updated on 05/07/2012 3:52PM

Elliston the new Breeders' Cup chief operating officer

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Bob Elliston, the president of Turfway Park since 1999 and the executive chairman of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s board of directors, has been hired as the new chief operating officer of Breeders’ Cup Ltd., Breeders’ Cup said on Monday.

Elliston, 48, will fill a position that has been vacated since Matthew Lutz, the chief operating officer at Breeders’ Cup since 2007, left the organization near the end of 2011. Jim Gluckson, a spokesman for Breeders’ Cup, said the appointment was effective immediately.

Elliston, a lifelong racing fan, was brought into Turfway in 1999 after Jerry Carroll, the previous owner of the track, sold it to a partnership of Keeneland, GTech, and Harrah’s Entertainment. He has been at the helm of the track ever since, during a time in which the track’s financial performance has seesawed wildly.

Popular among trainers and other racing executives, Elliston was appointed the executive chairman of the NTRA in 2006, serving as a conduit between the organization’s diverse board and its management.  On Monday, he said in an e-mail he would resign from his position on the NTRA’s board, because the seat was reserved for a racetrack representative. Breeders’ Cup currently has two representatives on the board.

“We are proud to have selected one of the most talented, highly regarded and respected individuals in the Thoroughbred racing business as our chief operating officer,” said Breeders’ Cup president Craig Fravel. “Bob’s value as a leader and expertise in coordinating operations with our board, management and with host tracks for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships will be a terrific asset to our company.”

Elliston also said that he would give up his position on the board of the Kentucky Equine Education Project, a lobbying group formed by the Kentucky racing industry. The seat was reserved for Turfway, he said.

Under Elliston, Turfway was the first track to install a synthetic main track in North America. The Polytrack surface, manufactured and installed by a partnership that included Keeneland, a co-owner of Turfway, dramatically reduced fatalities at the track during its winter meet.

Ownership stakes in Turfway have shifted over the years, and earlier this April, a partnership that is building two casinos in Ohio purchased a 40 percent stake in the track from Keeneland. The stake was merged with the 50 percent share already held by a company related to the partnership, giving the casino company, Rock Ohio Ventures, a 90 percent share in the track. Keeneland retains the last 10 percent.

Rock Ohio is developing a casino just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, along with another casino in Cleveland. The majority stake in Turfway gives the casino partners additional protection for their Ohio businesses should casinos be legalized in Kentucky, and the long-term future of Turfway other than a hedge on casinos in neighboring states or a bet on Kentucky casinos is unclear.