Although they haven't completely closed the door on getting a deal put together, officials at Triple Crown Productions say it is unlikely there will be a joint sponsor this year for the three races.
A sponsor is being sought to replace Visa USA, which ended its sponsorship of the Visa Triple Crown Challenge following last year's classics. For 19 years, there was a $5-million bonus offered for any horse that swept the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), Preakness (gr. I), and Belmont Stakes (gr. I). No horse accomplished the feat during the time the bonus was offered.
"We have some things going, but it is more likely for the future," said Ed Seigenfeld, executive vice president of Triple Crown Productions, of negotiations for a series sponsor. "It is very, very complex."
Seigenfeld confirmed published reports that TCP had been close to finalizing a sponsorship deal with Anheuser-Busch brewery, but that negotiations have ceased for now.
"There were discussions with Anheuser-Busch, but they are over for the time being," he said. "We have great admiration for the people at the brewery in St. Louis and perhaps something can develop in the future. But right now it is a closed issue."
Seigenfeld said one stumbling block to a new sponsorship agreement was the decision by the New York Racing Association to have the ABC network televise the June 10 Belmont. Both the Derby and the May 20 Preakness remain with the NBC network under a contract that extends through 2010.
"TV is an integral part of any deal we put together," Seigenfeld said. "There are complications because of that."
An additional complication is the deal entered into between Churchill Downs and Yum! Brands in which the fast-food corporation will be the presenting sponsor for this year's Derby on May 6. Also, even though Visa ended its sponsorship of the three races, it also entered into a separate five-year agreement as a Derby sponsor.
"That (the Derby sponsorship packages) is not so much a negative, but is an added challenge," he said. "There is so much that must be included in a sponsorship package to make the Triple Crown Challenge work."