Updated on 09/15/2011 12:40PM

Pollard named Churchill chairman


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Kentucky breeder and businessman Carl Pollard Tuesday was named chairman of Churchill Downs Inc., one of racing's major companies and the owner of six racetracks. He succeeds outgoing chairman William Farish, who resigned to accept a presidential appointment as U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain and Ireland.

Churchill's board of directors elected Pollard unanimously.

In a press conference call following the board meeting, Pollard indicated that international simulcasting and capital improvements to Churchill's flagship property, Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., were among the issues at the top of his agenda. He also expressed strong support for alternative gaming at Kentucky's racetracks, but added that Churchill would "take temperatures and see whether the time is right" before pushing that issue.

Calling opportunities for Churchill "almost boundless," Pollard nonetheless acknowledged the recent declines in racetrack attendance. "Unfortunately, I see the growth of the industry as being more in simulcasting, as it has been," he said. But he also said that Churchill is on the right track to boost live attendance, and called that a critical issue.

Pollard said the company would focus on the possible import and export of racing signals on a world-wide basis.

Pollard also said the company might seek tax relief to help finance its planned capital improvements project. "I think we need some assistance with that, and something like tax relief would be a major benefit in this endeavor," he said. "But we'll have to do [the improvements] anyway."

Pollard takes the reins at the publicly held company after a period of substantial growth. In the last few years, Churchill has purchased an array of racetracks. It operates Calder Race Course in Florida, Arlington Park in Chicago, Churchill Downs and Ellis Park in Kentucky, Hoosier Park in Indiana, and Hollywood Park in California, which provide Churchill with rich simulcast properties. Among the challenges the company faces is competition from rival racetrack conglomerate Magna Entertainment, which owns prime simulcast properties in Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Park, among other racetracks, and is aggressively building a simulcast network. Magna is also a major contender to acquire the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation.

Pollard, 63, began his career as a partner in the Louisville accounting firm of Yeager, Ford & Warren. In 1968, he moved to a nursing home business that grew to become the Fortune 500 health care company Humana. Pollard held various positions at Humana, including president and chief operating officer in 1991-93. He also was chairman and chief executive officer of the company's hospital division, Galen Health Care, which merged with Columbia Healthcare Corporation in 1993. Pollard served as chairman of Columbia until 1994.

A member of the Churchill board since 1985, Pollard is part of a tradition that places respected breeders at the company's helm. Pollard has owned Hermitage Farm near Louisville, Ky., since 1994, when he purchased the 700-acre Oldham County nursery from the estate of another former Churchill chairman, Warner Jones Jr. Pollard also races Caressing, last year's champion 2-year-old filly.