07/17/2004 11:00PM

NTRA commissioner weighing top job at NYRA

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John Eastwood
NYRA officials announced Sunday night that NTRA commissioner Tim Smith (above) is considering the position of President and CEO of NYRA.

Tim Smith, the commissioner and chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, is considering taking a top position at the New York Racing Association, NTRA and NYRA officials said in a statement released on Sunday night.

"I am honored to be considered for the position of NYRA President and CEO,"

Smith said in a prepared statement. "NYRA stands for the highest quality of racing in the world in the world's most important market. I am equally committed, however, to the NTRA and Breeders' Cup, so any decision will take more time and consultation with the relevant groups and representatives over the next several weeks."

The NTRA, which merged with the Breeders' Cup in 2001, is funded through a variety of means, including contributions from racetracks, horsemen's groups, and industry associations. Smith is expected to consult with those groups and the boards of directors of both the NTRA and Breeders' Cup before making a final decision.

Should Smith decide to take the job, he would join NYRA at a time that the association is under significant financial and political pressure. Smith would take a position that was previously filled, in some capacities, by Terry Meyocks, who resigned last September after state and federal investigations revealed widespread tax-evasion schemes among NYRA's mutual clerks.

Smith, though, would be expected to take a much broader role at NYRA than Meyocks, who concentrated on the day-to-day management of NYRA's three tracks, Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga. NYRA is still undergoing significant structural changes because of the tax-evasion crimes, and the association is also hoping to get legislation passed that would extend its franchise beyond the existing expiration date of Dec. 31, 2007.

Before joining the NTRA as its first commissioner when the association was launched in 1997, Smith was a top official at the PGA Tour. Along with others, Smith was involved in devising and implementing the business plan that led to the formation of the NTRA, which was designed as a marketing association but has evolved into a wide-ranging league office.

At the NTRA, Smith has also spearheaded several federal and state legislative strategies, including the founding of a political action committee and a broadened lobbying presence for the industry in Washington, D.C.

NYRA is currently operating under the oversight of a federally-appointed law firm, Getnick and Getnick, that has been charged with insuring that the association complies with the conditions of a deferred prosecution. NYRA was indicted last December because of the tax-evasion schemes, but reached a deal to avoid a conviction by agreeing to pay a $3 million fine, restructure many of its departments, and admit to wrongdoing.

NYRA's efforts to get legislation passed to extend its franchise have been so far fruitless, in part due to heavy lobbying by Magna Entertainment Corp., the huge racing conglomerate, and in part because of its legal difficulties. NYRA officials have said that they need the extension in order to start a project to install slot machines at Aqueduct.