09/14/2002 12:00AM

Plan for new pre-Cup series


The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association has hired an economic consultant to develop a business plan for a televised series of races in the summer and fall leading up to the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.

The planning is still in the preliminary stages and few concrete details were available. TOBA, which has been working on the project for about a year, hopes to get the business plan in two months, said Dan Metzger, TOBA's executive director. "We have to be very diligent and very detailed," Metzger said. "It has to make real economic sense. It has to be based on reality, not some pie-in-the-sky projections, because economic changes are going to affect a lot of constituents."

The TOBA plan would seek to create a linked series of races to promote older horses, supporters said, by getting tracks to cooperate on their stakes schedules. Under the plan, the races would be broadcast on national television, and bonuses would be given to horses earning points in the series based on finish positions.

The concept is similar to the American Championship Racing Series, a multirace series that ran from 1991-93, linking races for older horses with a bonus system. The ACRS dissolved amid allegations of mismanagement and concerns about funding.

Metzger said that TOBA was "keeping its options open" on funding for the series. Costs would include marketing the series, paying for the bonuses, and possibly paying for broadcast time.

Richard Thalheimer, whose Louisville firm, Thalheimer and Associates, was hired to develop the plan, said that very few conclusions about the parameters of the series have been reached.

Breeders' Cup and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which merged last year, sell sponsorships to linked races leading up to the World Thoroughbred Championships. The NTRA also sponsors a television series for older horses, the "NTRA Champions on CBS," while promoting races leading up to the Breeders' Cup in all divisions under the "Road to the World Thoroughbred Championships" banner.

Tim Smith, the chief executive officer of the NTRA, said on Friday that the TOBA proposal "involves some of the best business minds in the sport." But he declined to comment specifically on the project. "At this point, it's more of a concept than a plan we can react to," Smith said.

"We appreciate that they want to integrate their idea with what the Breeders' Cup is already doing."

Metzger said that TOBA did not intend to duplicate efforts already being made by the NTRA and Breeders' Cup. "We are not looking to create another entity," Metzger said. "The long and the short of it, I think, is that we will be working with the NTRA in the future."