06/27/2005 11:00PM

Philly Park rejoins NTRA


Philadelphia Park in Bensalem, Pa., has rejoined the National Thoroughbred Racing Association after a five-year absence, representatives of both organizations said on Tuesday.

Philadelphia Park's membership becomes effective Jan. 1, 2006, and runs through 2010. The NTRA is aggressively seeking to sign new five-year membership agreements with tracks and horsemen's groups. All its current membership agreements expire at the end of this year.

Philadelphia Park has long operated outside the mainstream of the racing industry, holding year-round racing meets and catering more to hard-core simulcast bettors than fans of live racing. But the track is poised to reinvent itself now that slot machines were legalized at 14 sites in Pennsylvania last year, including Philadelphia, and the track's owner, Greenwood Racing, has been seeking partnership deals with overseas companies to market American racing to customers in Europe.

Philadelphia Park dropped out of the NTRA in 2000 because of a disagreement over the NTRA's partnership with Television Games Network, the national account-wagering company. Greenwood Racing operates Phonebet, a competing account-wagering company.

Hal Handel, the chief executive officer of Philadelphia Park, said on Tuesday that he is no longer concerned about the NTRA's relationship with TVG given the vast changes on in account-wagering since 2000. Handel said that Philadelphia Park is "poised to become a much different player on the national scene," due to the legalization of slots. Purses at Philadelphia Park will grow to about $500,000 a day once slots are up and running at the end of 2006, officials have estimated.

"The playing field right now is littered with account-wagering companies, and the number of changes over the past five years has been incredible," Handel said. "So I feel much more relaxed and comfortable about TVG than ever before."

Philadelphia Park's owners have had bitter disagreements with the NTRA's former chief executive officer, Tim Smith, who resigned from the association last year and is now head of a racing industry advocacy group, Friends of New York Racing. Handel said that Philadelphia Park has a better relationship with the NTRA's current chief executive, D.G. Van Clief, adding, he "didn't want to throw stones at Tim."

"He did his thing, and I don't blame him for any of that," Handel said.