08/13/2016 11:33AM

Scherf, executive vice president of Thoroughbred Racing Associations, to retire

Chris Scherf will retire in October after 27 years as executive vice president of the TRA.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Chris Scherf, the longtime head of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations who led the organization through successes, failures, and sporadic turmoil, will retire in October after 27 years as executive vice president of the racetrack trade group, the TRA announced Friday night after a board meeting in Saratoga Springs.

Hank Zeitlin, the former president and chief operating officer of Equibase, will succeed Scherf, the TRA said. Zeitlin resigned his positions at Equibase last December.

Scherf, 66, said on Saturday morning that he informed the TRA board in 2015 that he intended to retire in 2016. Zeitlin was immediately identified as a candidate when he resigned from Equibase, which is partially owned by the TRA.

“The board knew at once that he was an ideal candidate,” Scherf said.

Scherf, 66, served as the TRA’s executive vice president during an era in which the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry was transformed by the implementation of full-card simulcasting.

Also during his tenure, the TRA successfully moved into the data-collection business through the launch of Equibase, but its accomplishments on that front were tempered by a doomed effort to create a national leadership office to address the sport’s collective struggles in the mid-1990s, a failure that required Scherf to oversee delicate dialogues to keep dissatisfied members within the fold.

“On behalf of the members of TRA, I would like to sincerely thank Chris for his longtime dedication to the Thoroughbred industry,” said Joe Wilson, the president of the TRA, which counts as its members most of the major racetracks in the U.S. “He has led the organization through many technological advancements, most notably the formation of Equibase. His depth of knowledge on every facet of the racing industry is unmatched, and we are grateful for his many contributions.”

When Scherf was named executive vice president in 1989, the TRA’s member tracks were eager to expand full-card simulcasting across the U.S. to capitalize on what would eventually become the racing industry’s primary source of betting revenue. Under Scherf, the TRA led efforts to lobby for state regulations easing the way for interstate wagering while also helping to design computer protocols that would provide the technological infrastructure to merge pools across state lines.

Scherf was also executive vice president when the TRA decided early in his tenure to partner with The Jockey Club to create a data company in 1990 to compete with Daily Racing Form, which at the time was the only company collecting data on racing performances at U.S. tracks. Scherf was made corporate secretary of Equibase at the time of its formation, a position he held until last year.

Equibase eventually supplanted DRF as a data-collection company and is now the industry’s chief data supplier. It has also expanded into numerous other technology areas, including the development of software for racing operations.

Scherf said the effort to expand full-card simulcasting and the launch and growth of Equibase have been the most important TRA achievements during his career. Equibase rapidly became a profit center for TRA racetracks, and it continues to distribute steady dividends to TRA members, Scherf said.

“When it was formed, it was hoped that it could generate the amount of revenue that could make the TRA and the [Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, the TRA’s security arm] self-sustainable,” Scherf said. “It has achieved that goal.”

Shortly after launching Equibase, the TRA board decided to pursue a national effort to market the sport, creating the position of commissioner and filling it in 1994 with Brian McGrath, a marketing executive. The effort, which sought to replicate in part the powerful leadership positions at major sports leagues, was ill-fated from the start, and McGrath and his position were eliminated just 18 months later amid infighting among TRA member tracks.

The TRA later participated in the formation in 1998 of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which was initially envisioned as a league office representing all of racing’s constituencies. Though the NTRA remains in operation, its operational parameters have been trimmed significantly.

Following the pick-six scandal at the 2002 Breeders’ Cup, in which a totalizator company employee manipulated a ticket after it had been sent into the national wagering system, the TRA created a division within the TRPB to monitor wagering pools for suspicious activity. The division currently operates a national monitoring system flagging suspicious bets at all TRA member tracks.

In addition to his position at the TRA, Scherf has served as co-chairman of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, an industry-funded group that devises and recommends medication policies. He is also the TRA’s representative on the Racing Committee of the American Horse Council, a federal lobbying group representing equine interests.

Scherf said he has no plans in his retirement except to “plan for his retirement.”

“I’ll bet horses for fun,” Scherf said.

Scherf is one of a number of long-serving racing officials to announce their retirements this year. Jay Hickey, the longtime president of the AHC, stepped down at the end of June, along with Rogers Beasley, the vice president of racing at Keeneland, who had been employed by the track for 34 years. 

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