Tour De Force?
Photo:
Ray Paulick
Editor-in-Chief
One of the last things Thoroughbred racing needs is another organization that duplicates or comes into conflict with the work of others. That must be avoided if the Thoroughbred Championship Tour, a concept developed by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, comes to fruition.

Some of the things the TCT is designed to accomplish--more television exposure, an increase in handle and attendance, and the creation of a more defined racing season-also can be found on the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's "to do" list. Duplication of efforts is senseless. If the proposal moves forward, it is essential the TCT and the NTRA are joined at the hip and not develop into rivals.

The executive committee of the Breeders' Cup has demonstrated its support for the TCT through a commitment of $3 million per year in funding, contingent on TCT's formation and subject to final approval by the Breeders' Cup's full board of directors.

It may not be quite as easy for TCT to get a similar endorsement from the NTRA, which in 2001 merged its operations (though not its financials) with the Breeders' Cup.

The big difference is that the Breeders' Cup board consists solely of breeders and owners, while the NTRA board has equal representation between racetracks and owner/breeder interests. The TCT is an owners' initiative that will depend on substantial investment from that sector to get off the ground and sustain itself through formative years that are projected to lose money.

TCT projects it will need $40 million to get the for-profit corporation up and running. That may sound like a lot of money, but not when you consider the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to acquire racing prospects at public auction or to breed them to race--not to mention the nearly $1 billion owners invest in annual costs for training and veterinary care. Currently, owners are only getting less than 50 cents back on every dollar they invest.

That's why a number of prominent owners have stepped up to support TCT, which, if successful, will improve the economics of the game for owners, breeders, and participating racetracks.

Details of the initiative are the subject of ongoing discussions among TOBA, track officials, and a committee appointed by the NTRA. At the core of the plan is a July-October racing season for six of the eight divisions included in the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, with the 2-year-old divisions excluded. The TCT races would be built around five Saturdays, with the best races within those six divisions nationally televised. There will be a point system and bonuses within each division, and some form of incentive or restriction to attract the best horses in training.

Television time will have to be bought, just as the NTRA pays to get on ESPN and CBS, but TCT proponents hope the event's popularity will eventually yield rights fees from the networks. That's the case with the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup.

The payment of television rights fees assumes the TCT will add to the racing calendar five major events that will attract the attention of the general public the way the Triple Crown and, to a lesser extent, the Breeders' Cup have done. It is an ambitious goal, not unlike the challenge presented by John Gaines when he announced his vision for the Breeders' Cup in 1982.

When the Breeders' Cup was proposed, racing had no national office to promote the sport. The Breeders' Cup has been a success, though more from an operational standpoint than for its ability to market racing. The development of the NTRA, followed by its merger with the Breeders' Cup, has created a more effective organization. It can grow even stronger by embracing the TOBA initiative.

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