08/19/2009 12:00AM

Steeplechasers in TV deal


The National Steeplechase Association has organized 12 races scheduled for cards at racecourses in Virginia and New Jersey on Oct. 17 for a Breeders' Cup-style event that will be televised live by NBC Universal Sports, the organization announced on Wednesday.

The 12-race card, which will offer total purses of $700,000, will be headlined by the most prestigious U.S. steeplechase race on the calendar, the $250,000, Grade 1 Grand National at the Far Hills race meet in New Jersey. First post for the card will be 12:45, with a race run every 20 to 25 minutes, alternating between the six-race card at Far Hills and the six-race card at the International Gold Cup meet at Great Meadow Racecourse in The Plains, Virginia.

The television broadcast, which will begin at noon, is expected to last five hours, and will include broadband and online coverage, according to the NSA and NBC Universal.

The NSA will seek to reach agreements with simulcast sites and account-wagering companies to offer betting on the 12-race card, both in the U.S. and in countries in Europe, according to Lou Raffetto, the chief executive officer of the NSA. The association has not yet determined which wagers might be offered, Raffetto said.

"We're going to try to open the door a little bit and maybe build this event up," Raffetto said. "Hopefully we can raise the awareness of our sport and maybe raise a little revenue in the process."

Like flat racing, steeplechase racing has struggled to find new racing fans over the past few decades. The Far Hills meet is one of the sport's most popular events, drawing 50,000 fans annually to the New Jersey course, while the International Gold Cup card typically draws approximately 35,000 fans, according to the NSA.

The three-year contract with NBC Universal Sports is a partnership in which the association and the television network will share in the costs and revenues, according to Raffetto. NBC Universal Sports broadcast the bulk of last year's equestrian events at the Summer Olympics and is one of the few networks to regularly carry equestrian sports outside of flat racing.

"This is something that fits real well with their coverage," Raffetto said. "It's a lifestyle event to their audience."