04/22/2005 12:00AM

Argent to sponsor Belmont


Argent Mortgage has reached agreement with the New York Racing Association to be the presenting sponsor for the 137th Belmont Stakes, to be run on June 11 at Belmont Park.

The deal does not infringe on Visa's sponsorship of the Triple Crown series, said Bill Nader, senior vice president for the New York Racing Association.

"Visa is the umbrella sponsor of the Triple Crown series," Nader said. "The Derby and Preakness could also have a title or presenting sponsor."

Lou Raffetto, the chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, which hosts the Preakness, said his parent company, Magna Entertainment Corp., is "always pursuing opportunities of that nature, but it's nothing that we are going to come up with this season."

Officials from Churchill Downs, which hosts the Kentucky Derby, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Representatives from Argent Mortgage, a mortgage lender headquartered in Irvine, Ca., will be in the Belmont winner's circle, but will not present the Belmont Stakes trophy, Nader said. That distinction usually goes to a high-ranking politician such as Gov. George Pataki.

The one-year deal with Argent was announced one week after the NYRA reached a three-year agreement with Emirates Airlines to be a sponsor of Belmont Park.

"Some of the criticism of NYRA has been its inability to maximize revenue," Nader said. "We took a great asset - the Belmont Stakes - and we've leveraged that asset to maximize revenue."

Last fall NYRA announced that it had separated itself from the other Triple Crown races and reached a deal to show the Belmont Stakes on ABC sports beginning in 2006.

Last year, Argent Mortgage sponsored the Distaff Turf Mile, a race on the Kentucky Derby undercard. Argent also is involved with sponsorships in auto racing.