03/11/2002 1:00AM

Poll: Interest in racing up

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LAS VEGAS - An ESPN poll says the number of Americans interested in horse racing has increased for the second straight year, and now it's up to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the racetracks to turn them into full-fledged fans. That was the message Monday morning at the opening day of the two-day NTRA Marketing Summit at the Treasure Island Hotel-Casino here.

More than 180 attendees, representing 75 tracks and racing organizations, heard TNS Intersearch-ESPN Sports Poll executive director Tracy Schoenadel announce that horse racing was one of only four sports to show an increase in its potential fan base (determined by the percentage of 22,930 poll respondents who said they were at least "a little bit interested" in a given sport) from 2000 to 2001.

The number of people who said they were interested in horse racing has risen from 30.4 percent in 1999 - the first year the sport was included in the poll - to 31.5 percent in 2000 to 33.3 percent in 2001. The 5.4 percent increase was second only to NASCAR among all sports.

By comparison, the NFL's fan base is 66.8 percent (down from 68.5 percent in 2000) and Major League Baseball's is 59.6 percent.

The NTRA's own recognizability figure rose from 29 percent in 2000 to 57 percent in 2001 - Shoenadel said that type of increase was "off the charts." The "Go Baby Go" slogan rose from 17 percent to 20 percent.

"Our challenge as marketers is to turn this positive interest trend into increased attendance and participation," NTRA Commissioner Tim Smith said.

Also Monday, the NTRA announced the formation of NTRA Creative Services, which will expand the organization's co-op advertising program through marketing and advertising production services.