The National Thoroughbred Racing Association has gotten a great deal of mileage out of a charitable gift to nationally syndicated radio host Don Imus. The "Imus in the Morning" show has 10 million listeners on 77 stations throughout the country and can also be seen on MSNBC television.
The NTRA decided to donate through NTRA Charities $30,000 -- $10,000 for each Triple Crown race -- to the Imus Ranch, a working cattle ranch in New Mexico that takes in kids with cancer and lets them work with horses and other livestock. NTRA also planned to buy $30,000 of ad time on the Imus show. NTRA commissioner Tim Smith was a guest on the Imus show prior to the Kentucky Derby, as was NBC Sports commentator Tom Hammond.
After the Derby, Imus took the donation a step further and decided to bet $10,000 on the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), with the provision that if the money going to the charity was lost at the races, he would replace it. Any money won at the races would go to the charity, too. New York radio sports commentator and frequent Imus guest Mike Francesa added $5,000 to the kitty and the two talked up the Preakness big time on the show. On the day before the race, Francesa came up with 30 different Preakness bets for the $15,000, including $5,000 to win on Point Given, and showed a net profit of $8,146. It would have been a much more profitable day had Congaree finished second, because one of the bets was a $1,000 exacta from Point Given to Congaree. "We had 11-5 all over the place," Imus said on Monday's show in reference to the exacta bet. The money was wagered at Pimlico and Belmont Park.
Imus also said on Monday's show that he wanted to take the $23,146 and "let it ride" on the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) June 9. NTRA and the New York Racing Association said they would add a little extra to the bankroll, guaranteeing $35,000. Then, Imus added $10,000 and Francesa $5,000, putting their stake at $50,000. Bo Dietl, another regular guest on Imus, liked the idea so much he doubled it, giving the Imus show a total of $100,000 to bet on the Belmont. Again, all profits go to the charity, and the various parties will match any losses with donations to the charity. In other words, the Imus Ranch will get at least $100,000. NTRA and NYRA are responsible for $35,000 of that amount.
Most of the four hours of the May 21 Imus show was spent talking about the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Near the end of the show, NTRA staffer Peter Rotondo appeared in the studio with more than $19,000 from tickets cashed at Pimlico. Advertising time on the Imus show starts at $4,000 per minute. It's likely conversations about the Belmont will increase as the Triple Crown's final jewel gets closer. With the show's flagship station, WFAN, located in New York, that's very good news for the NYRA and racing in general.
Some will say this is the smartest $35,000 the NTRA and NYRA will ever spend.