01/29/2004 1:00AM

NTRA may double tournament purse

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The National Thoroughbred Racing Association is considering doubling the purse of the National Handicapping Championship and tweaking its format for next year, officials for the NTRA said Wednesday.

The changes, according to Keith Chamblin, the NTRA's vice president of marketing, will be designed to draw more attention to the tournament, which this year gave out $240,000 in total purses, with $100,000 to the winner. The NTRA's long-term goal will be to push the total purse to $1 million, Chamblin said.

"All of this is intended to improve on what we think is already an excellent event," Chamblin said. "We feel pretty good about where we are right now, but we're looking for that silver bullet."

Prize money for the championship, which is organized by the NTRA and Daily Racing Form, currently comes from approximately 60 qualifying tournaments held at racetracks and offtrack betting locations across the country, Chamblin said. The fee to hold a qualifier is $4,000.

Chamblin said the NTRA is considering doubling the qualifying fee, with all the money from the fees still going directly to the purse. He also said the NTRA may host some pay-to-play online tournaments during the year, and also seek out an additional sponsor for the tournament, with those revenues going to the total purse.

The National Handicapping Tournament was first held in 2000. Its total purse was $212,000 for the first four years. The purse was raised to $240,000 this year because of an increase in qualifying rounds.

NTRA officials believe that the tournament is one of the association's best ways to connect with horseplayers. The NTRA was formed in 1997 to market horseracing and improve the image of the sport.

Chamblin also said that NTRA officials plan to meet with bettors and tournament players over the next month to consider changes to the format that would make the tournament more television-friendly. The changes could include extending the tournament to three days, with the final day matching the top dozen players over the first two days.

Chamblin said the NTRA would like to have the changes worked out by the end of February. The first qualifying rounds for the 2005 championship will be held this weekend.