04/19/2005 12:00AM

Van Clief to lead NTRA

D.G. Van Clief, 56, has been president of Breeders' Cup Ltd. since 1996.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - D.G. Van Clief, the Breeders' Cup president who has been involved with the National Thoroughbred Racing Association since its formation in 1997, was named the NTRA's commissioner and chief executive officer at a board meeting in Lexington on Monday.

Van Clief, 56, has been acting as the NTRA's interim chief executive since Tim Smith, the group's first chief, resigned in September. Under terms of Van Clief's contract, he will be the chief executive through the end of 2007, according to the NTRA.

Van Clief was made interim chief executive officer when the NTRA was launched as Thoroughbred racing's league office in April 1997. He served through April 1998, when Smith was identified by an executive search firm, Russell Reynolds, and ultimately approved by the NTRA board. Russell Reynolds also helped to identify and interview candidates for the chief executive position after Smith's resignation.

Smith's background was in event and sports marketing, and he had close ties to Washington and the business world. Van Clief comes from a prominent Virginia racing family, and nearly all of his management experience comes from within the racing world.

Since 1996, Van Clief has been the president of Breeders' Cup Ltd., which merged with the NTRA in 2001. Before being appointed president, he was the Breeders' Cup's executive director, a position he took when the organization was formed in 1982. He is also the chairman of Fasig-Tipton Company, the auction firm.

The NTRA is currently seeking to renew its membership agreements with racetracks and horsemen's groups, which provide about 50 percent of its funding. Most of the current membership agreements expire at the end of 2005, and Van Clief's familiarity with the principals in the racing business, especially among breeders and farm owners in Kentucky, likely played a part in his selection.

Late last year, the NTRA announced that it was developing ways to measure the effectiveness of its advertising and marketing programs, in response to complaints from some members that the association's efforts were hard to gauge. According to a poll conducted by ESPN, interest in horse racing has increased in the past five years, but last year, handle on U.S. horse races fell for the first time since 1993.

The release of a federal indictment in January accused more than a dozen people of operating an illegal gambling ring through several offshore rebate shops. Since then, many racetracks, including the New York Racing Association and Keeneland, have stopped sending their signal to many offshore sites, cutting off a primary source of handle for the industry.

"The industry is at a critical juncture in that it faces both challenges and opportunities," Van Clief said in a statement. "One of our jobs will be to try to sustain the positive momentum we've seen recently in areas that include fan interest, television viewership, sponsorship, and legislative, among others, while positioning the NTRA as an increasingly stronger and more capable leader."

In other developments, the NTRA board approved a strategic plan for the years 2006 through 2010. The board asked NTRA management to explore the different ways to market media rights of races that are broadcast on television, according to the NTRA's vice president of marketing, Keith Chamblin, so that member tracks could derive more revenue from signage and sponsorships. Also, the board asked the NTRA to take a more active lobbying role to legalize account wagering in states where racetracks and horsemen approve, Chamblin said.