07/18/2004 11:00PM

Smith likely to leave NTRA to take post with NYRA


NEW YORK - Tim Smith will likely resign as commissioner and chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association on July 27 to take a top position at the New York Racing Association, officials said on Sunday and Monday.

Smith, 56, is expected to begin work at NYRA in September, the officials said, and would become NYRA's president and chief executive officer. The position is designed to maximize his political influence in an attempt to save NYRA's embattled franchise, which expires on Dec. 31, 2007.

Publicly, NYRA and NTRA officials said that Smith has not formally accepted the position. Privately, however, one NTRA official and another person who is close to the negotiations said that Smith, who lives in Lexington, Ky., is expected to resign his current duties at a July 27 NTRA board meeting.

Smith has been the NTRA's only commissioner and chief executive officer since the association was formed in April 1998 as the industry's national marketing group. His resume includes jobs in President Carter's administration, with the PGA Tour, and with a sports marketing company he founded that produced the marketing plan for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Barry Schwartz, the chairman of NYRA, said on Monday that he was "excited just to be talking with someone like Tim." He declined to comment further, other than to say that should Smith take the job, he would begin in September.

NYRA, which operates Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga, has been under enormous political and financial pressure since federal and state investigators revealed significant tax-evasion schemes among NYRA's mutuel tellers. The investigations culminated in a federal indictment for tax fraud last December, but the association avoided a conviction by admitting wrongdoing, agreeing to operate under a court-appointed monitor, and paying a $3 million fine.

Terry Meyocks, the former president and chief executive officer of NYRA, resigned in September under pressure from state and federal regulators. Meyocks has since been hired by the NTRA as a special assistant.

Meyocks was paid $375,000 at NYRA. Smith, who recently signed a contract extension at the NTRA through 2005, is currently paid $750,000 a year.

Schwartz said he could not comment on what salary Smith might be paid if he took the NYRA job. "I can say that challenge is very important to him," Schwartz said.

Smith declined to comment on Monday. In a prepared statement, he said: "I am honored to be considered for the position of NYRA president and CEO. NYRA stands for the highest quality of racing in the world in the world's most important market."

The NTRA, which merged with the Breeders' Cup in 2001, is funded through a variety of means, including contributions from racetracks, horsemen's groups, and industry associations. The NTRA was formed as a marketing association and has evolved into an important lobbying force for the industry. The group has taken on various studies and projects aimed at increasing the sport's financial stability and addressing topics like drug use and the problems caused by the differences in state-by-state regulation.

Smith is expected to take a lobbying role at NYRA, which is hoping to get its franchise extended while avoiding a protracted political battle with legislators and racing companies that are eager to take its place.

NYRA's efforts to get legislation passed to extend the franchise have so far been fruitless, in part because of heavy lobbying by Magna Entertainment Corp., the huge racing conglomerate that has expressed an interest in taking over the franchise, and in part because of its legal difficulties. NYRA officials have said that they need the extension in order to start a project to install slot machines at Aqueduct.

"People realize that a healthy NYRA is the most important thing to the industry right now," said one official close to the negotiations.