The National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Breeders' Cup have implemented a new international ranking system for horses being pointed to the eight World Thoroughbred Championships races Oct. 26 at Arlington Park.
In addition, the two organizations have formed a "strategic marketing alliance" with Ascot in England and Longchamp in France to strengthen the link between United States and European racing.
International racing officials are producing weekly rankings for the world's top 10 Thoroughbred runners in each division. Rankings will be determined by a weighted analysis of the horses' performances in select graded stakes from around the world and will be used during NTRA-produced television programming and in publicity, print advertising and marketing programs for the World Thoroughbred Championships.
The initial rankings reflect six of the eight divisions: the Distaff, Filly and Mare Turf, Mile, Turf, Sprint and Classic. (The Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies divisional rankings will begin in late summer.)
The rankings will be used in part for field selection. The first seven horses in a Breeders' Cup race will be determined by points earned in American graded stakes, and the remaining seven by the new ranking system.
"The new rankings are designed to make it easier for all Thoroughbred racing fans, regardless of what country they live in, to follow the horses that are expected to compete in the World Thoroughbred Championships," Breeders' Cup president D.G. Van Clief Jr. said. "As our fans become more familiar with the names and accomplishments of these horses, we believe they'll enjoy the Breeders' Cup both as a world-class championship event and an outstanding day for pari-mutuel wagering."
Racing panel members are Howard Battle, stakes coordinator at Keeneland; Frank Gabriel Jr., vice president of racing and operations at Arlington; Nigel Gray, senior handicapper for The Jockey Club of England; Mike Lakow, racing secretary for the New York Racing Association; Garry O'Gorman, senior handicapper for the Irish Turf Club; Tom Robbins, director of racing at Del Mar; and Gerald Sauque, senior handicapper for France Galop.
The ranking system and the alliance with Ascot and Longchamp were officially announced June 18 at a press conference in New York City. Under the terms of the agreement with the two European racecourses, the parties will:
- Work to build global awareness and appreciation of each other's organizations and develop mutually supportive racing programs through joint marketing, media, and publicity initiatives;
- Recognize that Ascot and Longchamp stage world championship-level events that also provide an integral route to the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships;
- Televise top races from Ascot and Longchamp as part of the "Road to the World Thoroughbred Championships" series on ESPN, ESPN2, CBS, CNBC, and NBC;
- Designate Sept. 28 and Oct. 6 as special Breeders' Cup racing days. They feature Ascot's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, traditionally the top European test for milers, and Longchamp's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe-Lucien Barrière, the late-season, middle-distance championship of Europe, respectively;
- Present the Ambassador's Cup to the owner of the horse or horses that win specific races at Ascot and a Breeders' Cup race or races. William S. Farish, the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, will present the trophy; and
- Offer reciprocal hospitality to NTRA/Breeders' Cup sponsors at the Royal Ascot and Longchamp meets; Ascot and Longchamp sponsors; and partners at the World Thoroughbred Championships.
In regard to television, NTRA and Breeders' Cup also unveiled the schedule for this year's "Road to the World Thoroughbred Championships" on NBC and ESPN. The series will feature 18 1/2 hours of coverage during 16 shows.
Meanwhile, NBC Sports said that like in 2001, its telecast of the World Thoroughbred Championships from Arlington would span five hours from 1 to 6 p.m. Eastern time. Prior to last year's event, the telecast had aired for 4 1/2 hours.
In other business, NAPA Auto Parts has joined the NTRA sponsorship fold. The company is taking over the Penske Auto Centers sponsorship of the Breeders' Cup Sprint division. Penske Auto Centers decided to close up shop earlier this year, so that sponsorship opportunity became available.NEW WAGER, PENDING APPROVAL
If the Illinois Horseracing Board approves, a new wager called Head2Head will be offered Oct. 26 at Arlington. Two horses would be matched against each other in a "race within the race."
The NTRA said Head2Head would challenge bettors to predict which of two designated horses will finish in front of the other in a given race. Plans call for a Head2Head bet to be offered on each of the eight Championship races; the Head2Head-designated horses would be named at the post-position draw Oct. 23. Advance wagering would be offered Oct. 25.
A takeout rate of 10% is sought for the bet. In addition, Breeders' Cup will also offer "Europe versus America" wagers on the day's three turf races: the Mile, Filly and Mare Turf, and John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf).
"This wager gives newcomers a simple way to join in the game: Pick one horse to outrun the other," said Ken Kirchner, senior vice president of product development for the NTRA. "We also think Head2Head has a lot of potential with sports bettors who are accustomed to similar proposition bets in football, basketball, and other sports."