04/14/2003 11:00PM

Ambitious stakes plan proposed


Officials of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association met Tuesday in Lexington to discuss an ambitious TOBA plan to reorganize summer and fall stakes races.

The plan, which has been in development over the past year, would set up a for-profit company owned by Thoroughbred owners. The company would boost the purses for major stakes races leading up to the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, tie the races to million-dollar season-ending bonuses, and buy national television network time to broadcast the races live.

Officials from TOBA and the NTRA who attended the meeting were not available for comment late Tuesday. TOBA, a national organization based in Lexington, Ky., is hoping to get the NTRA's endorsement and help in implementing the plan, since many of the tasks that would have to be performed to accomplish the company's goals overlap with the NTRA's present duties.

In a draft proposal, the company, which is called the Thoroughbred Championship Tour, would require $25 million in start-up fees over a period of five years. Bonuses would cost the company $7.5 million a year, and purse supplements would cost $2.45 million.

The proposal anticipates scheduling six existing graded stakes races at as many as six different tracks within a two-hour period on six Saturdays in summer and fall for a national television broadcast. Each of the six races in each broadcast would correspond to one division linked to the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships races.

The divisions would be called the Sprint, Ladies, Ladies Turf, Mile Turf, Turf, and Classic. Each of the races in the series would have an average purse of $670,000, according to the proposal, and would be limited to horses who will be generally restricted to starting in the Tour's designated races, with some exceptions.

The proposal estimates that the company can raise millions of dollars in revenues each year by taking a share of the betting on each of the races. Betting on the races is expected to increase because of increased field sizes and the "excitement factor," according to the proposal.

The company is envisioned to lose money for the first five years of its existence, according to pro forma revenue statements. In the first year, net loss is projected to be $6 million, and, by the end of five years, the total combined loss is projected to be $18.3 million.

The reception for the proposal among racetracks is expected to be cautious, according to several racing officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity Tuesday. The proposal calls for the new company to work with racetracks on the promotion and scheduling of their races, as well as share in the revenues from the betting.