04/29/2003 11:00PM

Great State event future in jeopardy


The Great State Challenge, a year-old event designed to highlight state breeding programs, is unlikely to be renewed for a second running, officials with state racing organizations said on Wednesday.

Funding for the one-day, six-race challenge, which was held at Sam Houston Race Park last December, has become difficult to raise, the state officials said, at a time when the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the event's administrator, is facing a slight reduction in budgeted revenues. Logistical problems about when to hold the Challenge and how to attract horses also have proved difficult to overcome.

"It's a bit of a shame," said David Switzer, the executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association. "It was a great idea. It still is a great idea. Maybe we can make it work sometime else down the road."

National Thoroughbred Racing Association officials contended on Wednesday that the idea was not definitely dead for 2003, but they acknowledged that raising the money to stage the event has been difficult. A decision is expected by the NTRA's next board meeting, on June 5, the officials said.

"NTRA continues to work with Sam Houston Race Park and representatives of other member tracks, state horsemen's associations, and state breeders' organizations to develop a revenue plan that will enable us to run," said Pam Blatz-Murff, an NTRA official and director of the Challenge.

Blatz-Murff said that the NTRA is still looking for title sponsors for the event. Last year, John Deere, the farm equipment manufacturer that is also a sponsor of the Breeders' Cup, sponsored the event.

Although Sam Houston Race Park and the NTRA were praised for their roles in holding the event last year, the Challenge had difficulty attracting a large number of horses. Only 46 horses ran in the six races, which were designed for full fields of 14 each. One of the races, the Distaff, attracted only four horses, although one was the leading 3-year-old filly Take Charge Lady.

The event's date conflicted somewhat with the schedules for major statebred races in New York and California, and participation from those two states was especially light. New York, for example, was only represented by one horse.

Dennis Brida, the executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders, said that organizers had discussed several changes to the format and date during a conference call in April, but he said that every alternative encountered scheduling problems. He said his recommendation is that the NTRA reward the breeder associations that support the NTRA by contributing to statebred events.

Brida said the NTRA promoted it and got a sponsor and advertising and did a great job. But the concept is just okay, and it might be better to put that money directly into the state breeding programs."