12/10/2002 12:00AM

Sexton named Churchill president


CHICAGO - Steve Sexton was named president of Churchill Downs on Tuesday, just 16 months after he moved from Lone Star Park to Arlington Park.

Sexton leaves his post as Arlington president to assume a major leadership position at Churchill, the flagship track of Churchill Downs Inc., where he will also serve as senior vice president of Churchill's Kentucky operations.

Cliff Goodrich, onetime president of Santa Anita Park, will fill Sexton's position at Arlington. Goodrich served for two years as CEO of the California Thoroughbred Horsemen's Foundation. He and Sexton worked together at Santa Anita during the mid-1980's.

The search for a president at Churchill has been ongoing since the summer, when Alex Waldrop moved from that position to become senior vice-president of public affairs. Sexton emerged as a prime candidate for the vacancy early on, but during an Arlington meet that culminated in that track's first Breeders' Cup, Sexton professed to be focused more on his current job than the Churchill opening.

But Tuesday he completed a dynamic swing that saw him move from Lone Star, in a second-tier market, to the most recognizable racetrack in the country in less than two years. Sexton's tenure at Arlington generally was considered to be successful, and as Arlington chairman Dick Duchossois gave Sexton more rein this season, he displayed competence in maneuvering Arlington through the politically fraught Illinois racing landscape.

At Churchill, Sexton will take over in the middle of a $121 million renovation to the physical plant. "Churchill Downs faces many opportunities - and challenges - in the coming years," Sexton said in a statement.

Sexton will remain at Arlington to lead Goodrich through a transitional period. Arlington also faces challenges next season, chiefly because of recapture, a state-funded subsidy that has supported purse structures at Illinois racetracks since the mid-1990's. The state didn't fund recapture this year, forcing tracks to overpay purses, and a hope for a solution in 2003.