04/04/2002 1:00AM

New ads bet on casual fans

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NEW YORK - The National Thoroughbred Racing Association will target casual fans of racing - people who go to the track two to three times a year - in a new campaign of radio and television ads unveiled on Thursday.

The spots, four for television and four for radio, will begin airing the weekend of April 13, when a broadcast of the Blue Grass Stakes and Wood Memorial will appear on NBC. The campaign will replace the one the NTRA created two years ago featuring actors whose reactions to a race were thematically linked to well-known music like "Shout" and "Pagliacci."

The new campaign was created to urge people who have gone to the races infrequently in the past to go more often, said Keith Chamblin, the NTRA's vice president for marketing. Chamblin said NTRA research has identified 20 million people in the U.S. that are considered casual fans, compared with only 3 million hard-core fans.

"The casual fans told us in the focus groups that they enjoy going to the races when they go," Chamblin said. "But it's clear that they go for more than just betting. So we're showing groups, people drinking, people eating, people indoors and outdoors, doing the things they identified with a nice day at the track."

The television ads, produced by the Louisville advertising agency Red7e, cycle through racetrack shots - a child on a parent's shoulders, close-ups of young railbirds clutching programs, and slow-motion shots of horses rounding the turn - while text appears and disappears inside a colored bar on the bottom of the screen.

One of the ads, "Girls," makes the case that women are driven "wild" by a trip to the racetrack, as Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" plays.

"Only one sport drives women wild," consecutive text messages say. "Memo to guys: It ain't golf."

Another television spot, "Options," presents racing as an alternative to other weekend activities.

"Mow the lawn. Clean the basement. Watch TV. Hmmm. . ." the text reads. "What are the options again?"

The radio ads, produced by the New York agency DeVito Verdi, are more humorous. The four spots use fictional and sometimes irreverent race calls to emphasize the monotony of daily life, and, in contrast, the excitement of the racetrack.

One memorable spot, "Walk the Dog," pokes fun at the stereotypical weekend day.

"And they're off," the spot begins. "Out of the gate it's Get Up Early and Walk the Dog. Here comes Do the Laundry and Wash the Dishes. Out of nowhere comes Call from Mom, followed by Guilt Trip and Nagging. It's Nagging. It's Guilt Trip. Guilt Trip and Nagging. And Nagging is relentless." The call concludes with "Another Boring Saturday" winning the race after "Watch TV" falters and the comeback of "Call From Mom," who "just won't go away," falls short.

"For a better time, go to the track," a voice-over concludes. "We bet you'll love it."