10/10/2003 12:00AM

New race series in works


The National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the supporters of a proposed owner-led marketing structure for racing agreed on Friday to work toward common goals in 2004, according to a joint statement from the groups released late Friday.

The NTRA and the owners' group, which is being led by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, met on Friday afternoon in Lexington to discuss the marketing plan and a proposed television schedule for next year. The owners' plan is being called the Thoroughbred Championship Tour.

In the statement, the groups said that the NTRA has pledged to help the owners' group in negotiations with tracks and horsemen's groups. The owners' group hopes to convince tracks to reschedule stakes races so that a collection of graded races can be packaged into two-hour television windows on weekends.

The NTRA also said that its partner, Breeders' Cup, reiterated a pledge to contribute $3 million a year to the owners' group in order to fund purse increases for the televised stakes races. The stakes races would also be tied to million-dollar year-end bonuses that award owners for participating in the races.

The idea for the series began to be developed last year by directors of TOBA. The directors have said that they believe the tour would increase interest in the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships by presenting the televised stakes races as preps to the Breeders' Cup races. The races would be divided into six divisions roughly corresponding to the non-juvenile races on Breeders' Cup day.

The tour's goals overlap somewhat with those of the NTRA and the Breeders' Cup, and the idea has had a difficult time finding support outside of TOBA. Racetrack officials have so far reserved comment on the tour proposal, although several have privately greeted it with skepticism.

In a draft proposal released earlier this year, the tour organizers said that the organization will need $25 million in start-up funds. The money will be used, initially, to boost the purses of existing races to an average of just under $700,000 and to fund the bonuses. The money will be also used to buy television time.

The tour organizers also hope to raise funds for the proposal through a cut of the wagering revenues on races. Privately, tracks have been critical of that fund-raising mechanism and have disputed the financial figures presented by the tour supporters.