10/22/2001 11:00PM

NBC keeps Championships

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NEW YORK - NBC-TV will broadcast the World Thoroughbred Championships through 2005, NBC and Breeders' Cup announced Tuesday at a press conference in New York.

NBC has broadcast every card of Breeders' Cup races since their inception in 1984.

The talks were colored by two nearly opposite dynamics - on one hand, television ratings for racing's Triple Crown soared this year, increasing racing's leverage during the negotiations, but on the other hand, advertising revenues for broadcast networks have been in free fall since this summer.

Those competing forces evened out the negotiations, said officials for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which merged with Breeders' Cup this year.

"The rights fee is going to be comparable to the fee NBC paid previously," said Eric Wing, a spokesman for the NTRA. "It's in the same ballpark."

The contract extension guarantees that NBC will commit a minimum of 4 1/2 hours of broadcast time to the championships. It also calls for NBC to co-produce a preview show from Belmont Park three to four weeks before the event.

No 'wire cam' this year

NBC will not use the controversial "wire cam" during this year's Breeders' Cup broadcast, Cameron Blanchard, a spokeswoman for NBC, said Tuesday.

"The equipment necessary to work the camera required some cranes, and there's a crane shortage in New York right now, as you can imagine," Blanchard said, referring to the clean-up efforts at the former World Trade Center site.

The wire cam was used for the first time last year, tracking runners the length of the stretch from a vantage point perpendicular to the course. Although praised by some viewers, many racing fans sharply criticized the camera for failing to capture the field in the stretch.

Blanchard said that NBC expects to use the wire cam at next year's Breeders' Cup races, expected to be at Arlington Park in Chicago.