07/10/2003 12:00AM

Handle up on NTRA series races

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Wagering on the 12 races televised by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association on CBS this summer was up $2.7 million, or 17 percent, compared to last year, according to figures provided by the NTRA on Thursday.

The $2.7 million figure does not include wagering on three national pick threes linked to the broadcasts, the NTRA said. Wagering on those three bets was $1.15 million this year, up 64 percent compared to last year.

NTRA officials released the figures to support the organization's contention that its strategy of televising races leads to higher handle figures. The NTRA was created in 1997 with the mandate of increasing racing's exposure through advertising, marketing, and television.

The NTRA said that the additional handle this year on the 12 races generated an additional $548,000 in revenues that went to member tracks and horsemen. The pick-three bets generated an additional $287,000.

The NTRA produces the CBS-TV broadcasts through its subsidiary, NTRA Productions. An NTRA official said the budget for the four programs was about $1.5 million. The NTRA's total television budget for 2003 is approximately $8.9 million.

The four one-hour broadcasts reached an average of 1.12 million households, up 6 percent compared to last year. The programs ran on consecutive Saturday afternoons from June 14 to July 5. Each broadcast included three graded stakes from three different tracks, and with the exception of the July 5 broadcast, each had a pick three linked to the three live races.

The final broadcast did not include a national pick three because Churchill Downs feared that the inclusion of the wager would dilute the handle for a $1 million guaranteed pick six that day at Hollywood Park, owned by Churchill.

Bill Nader, a senior vice president with the New York Racing Association, said that handle on the four races broadcast from Belmont Park during the CBS telecasts did not show an improvement over last year. However, Nader blamed poor weather and short fields for the declines. NYRA also rescheduled the Suburban Handicap from its traditional date of July 4 to July 5 to accommodate the NTRA broadcast, costing the race wagering dollars, Nader said.

"We wouldn't be the poster boy for the NTRA on handle increases," Nader said.

But, Nader said, NYRA remains solidly behind the CBS series because of the ability of the broadcasts to showcase racehorses who are headed for the Breeders' Cup. The Suburban, for example, featured a matchup between the leading handicap horse in the country, Mineshaft, and last year's Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Volponi.

"For us, the benefits aren't handle-driven," Nader said. "We want to be on a network and work with the NTRA, so any time we can do that, we do it. It's a tremendous benefit to us and the industry any time we can get Mineshaft against Volponi to a national television audience."