02/26/2004 12:00AM

NTRA names security head

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The National Thoroughbred Racing Association has hired Sharon O'Bryan, a former senior vice president with the Dutch banking company ABN Amro, to head its national security office, the association announced Thursday at a board meeting in Palm Beach, Fla.

O'Bryan, 47, will be the NTRA's first chief security officer, a position created late last year to address deficiencies in the racing industry's bet-processing network. The network was the subject of intense criticism after the Breeders' Cup pick six scandal in 2002. From 1999 to 2003, O'Bryan headed ABN Amro's technology risk management division for North America.

The NTRA board also approved a proposal to develop a study examining the "economic effects of parimutuel wagering issues, such as rebating, piracy, betting exchanges, and other factors."

Last year, purses in the U.S. declined 1.86 percent, or $20 million, despite a 0.9 percent increase in handle. Some racing officials have blamed the decline in part on the rapidly growing practice of rebating, which returns cash to bettors based on their handle. Typically, betting outlets that award large rebates are not obligated to contribute money to purses.

The NTRA also approved:

* Five two-hour television broadcasts from June to September, to be called "NTRA Super Saturdays," on ABC and ESPN.

* A 2004 operating budget of $66.5 million. Revenue for the year is estimated at $66.9 million.

* Multiyear contract extensions for the NTRA's chief executive officer, Tim Smith, and the president of Breeders' Cup Ltd., D.G. Van Clief.