10/03/2002 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor

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Networks put racing in realm of bush leagues

In the Oct. 2 article "Sponsor search continues," Tim Smith, commissioner and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, was quoted thus: "Exposure increases interest; a major-league TV schedule promotes a major-league image," adding, "Research shows nationally promoted and televised races increase handle."

Apparently Smith isn't tuning in when it is time for these "major league" broadcasts. There are countless examples of other events preempting the racing coverage. What sort of events you ask? No, race fans, we are not talking about playoff football, or the World Series. How about women's amateur golf, or a NASCAR race that is red-flagged, or Little League baseball? The list goes on and on. Maybe Smith should get on the phone to the networks that keep pulling the plug on the "major league" telecasts. How can you expect sponsors to support the sport when you can't keep the TV time that you have, let alone create new time slots?

The casual sports fan looks in the paper on a Saturday morning and sees that Thoroughbred racing will be televised at a specific time. When the fan turns on the TV at that time and finds that the coverage mysteriously absent, the result is changing the channel, not a new racing fan. Sponsors also suffer because of the decreased time to promote their products as the racing programs are cut short.

When was the last time a World Series game was preempted by a women's golf event or a Little League game? When was the last time you saw the Super Bowl 30 minutes late because someone was sitting in a stock car waiting for a restart?

If racing is to be considered a major-league sport, the networks need to start treating it like one and give it the coverage it deserves. As long as racing keeps ending up on the back burner, sponsors will fizzle, and the number of new fans will drop. Meanwhile, the dedicated race fan who puts up with it all will continue to sit in anger, waiting for some other event to finish, while the horses for the next big race are loading into the gate.

Michael A. Pribozie - Johnstown, Pa.

Narrower focus can broaden audience

Much has been made over the merits of racing shows dedicated to long-time racing fans, especially those who gamble, versus shows that seek a broader audience. A recent poll on the Racing Form's website asked if respondents preferred telecasts that feature in-depth analysis of one live race or ones with multiple live races and less analysis. My take on the subject:

While serious bettors probably would choose to see many races (as I would), the future of Thoroughbred racing depends on finding a new and younger audience. (The same is true of other sports.) That audience won't be built by showing many races with little analysis, which in essence become just horse-blurs across the screen.

The strong general interest in the Triple Crown is in large measure because of the media coverage of the events, including personal stories about owners, trainers, jockeys, and horses, and insights into traditions. Ever watch a movie or read a book whose characters aren't engaging enough that you root for or against them? Before long you yawn and find something else to do.

Does a telecast ever include a short course on handicapping (an esoteric activity that's apparently part science, part wishful thinking, and part voodoo)? Does analysis ever include onscreen arrows and X's to show when and how a jockey made his move or how the favorite was blocked out or had to run wide to get out of traffic?

To attract a wider audience, Thoroughbred racing has to help that audience (1) care about the participants in the sport and (2) understand what they're seeing. One race after another with little analysis serves a very small and aging audience.

Sherry Pinson - Fairfield, Ohio

Supplementary fees a crucial part of program

Every year about this time, some turf writers get on the bandwagon of knocking the supplemental fees to run a non-Breeders' Cup-nominated horse on the biggest day of Thoroughbred racing. Mike Watchmaker's Sept. 25 column, "What price glory?" suggested adjusting the fees, but I don't think they should be changed.

Breeders can pay $500 the year a foal is born, making the foal eligible to the Breeders' Cup stakes program throughout the year as well as Breeders' Cup Day. A breeder must make a decision if that particular horse is worth the $500 investment: Will the breeder be able to recoup that investment when the horse is sold at auction or if he chooses to keep the horse for racing?

The breeder of Bonapaw apparently did not feel this horse was worth an additional $500 investment on top of the cost of raising him until he was sold. That appeared to be a wise decision at the time, as the horse sold for only $6,500 at the Keeneland September sale. No one at that time had any idea he would become a graded stakes winner. If a breeder doesn't think a horse is worth an extra $500, a buyer should not expect too much, just hope he has a good claimer. Anything more is a bonus. Bonapaw started his career at Evangeline Downs and lost by 21 lengths, but three years later, because he was not nominated as a foal, the owners lost out on nearly $30,000 when Bonapaw won the Pelleteri Breeders' Cup Handicap at Fair Grounds last year.

Breeders of horses who are expected to sell for six figures would not hesitate at the $500 Breeders' Cup fee for each foal.

Supplementary fees are still a hefty investment, but an investment that must be looked at beyond just one race. I would love to see Bonapaw win the Sprint and come back next year, both for his sire, Sabona, who has the pedigree to be a much better stallion than he has shown, and for all owners who buy horses for under $10,000 just hoping to hit a home run with a graded stakes winner and possible champion.

If the supplemental fees were lower, breeders would not have an incentive to invest the $500 in each foal, especially if they plan on selling the horse. This would be very detrimental to the future of the Breeders' Cup program.

Les Instone - Lexington, Ky.

Breeders' Cup promotion more miss than hit

As horse racing in North America blunders aimlessly towards the so-called World Thoroughbred Championships, fans are being once again targeted with the most nonsensical marketing.

Future bets, for example, on horses much of the population has never heard of. Head-to-head bets, but with whom and for what return? Incomprehensible online competitions that are as easy as breaking into Fort Knox or making money on the stock market is these days. And, yes, if you're lucky you can book a remote bleacher seat in the middle of nowheresville for this year's Breeders' Cup at Arlington Park.

Horse racing has few enough customers left as it is. Now those who organize the sport's main event expect people to fly in from all over the world just to sit at the top of the stretch, with no access to the paddock and with maximum exposure to inhospitable elements.

The way things are going, how can any new fans possibly be expected to pay attention or care? And for that matter, why would member racetracks bother to renew their membership in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association when that organization is doing such a poor job?

I would like to suggest that the entire NTRA/BC marketing staff be sent on a fact-finding trip to England, Australia, Hong Kong, and Japan to learn about how the sport should be promoted and run.Michael Powell - Toronto, Ontario