Edited press releaseThe number of people in the United States who said they are interested in Thoroughbred racing increased for a fifth consecutive year, according to national consumer research data released March 21 by ESPN Sports Poll, a division of TNS Sport.Fan interest in Thoroughbred racing grew by 5.1% last year, from 35.6% to 37.4% of the U.S. population (age 18-plus) to yield a total fan base of 78.5 million U.S. adults, according to poll figures. The 5.1% increase was the highest registered by any sport in 2004.The 2004 data also shows Thoroughbred racing has climbed into the top 10 sports in terms of fan interest. It finished ninth among 29 sports measured by the ESPN Sports Poll. The ninth-place ranking is up from an 11th-place finish in 2003 and a 14th-place position in 2001.Cumulatively from 1999 to 2004, interest has risen 19.1% (31.4% to 37.4%). According to the data, Thoroughbred racing is the only sport whose fan base has increased each of the last five years."The upward trend of Thoroughbred racing is one that is unseen in the sports industry," ESPN Sports Poll vice president Tracy Schoenadel said in a release. "Particularly noteworthy is that month-over-month comparisons between 2003 and 2004 showed fan interest gains in 11 of 12 months last year.""The numbers are extremely encouraging, and we are pleased to see that the 2004 increase in fan interest was largely consistent throughout the year," said Keith Chamblin, NTRA senior vice president of marketing and industry relations. "As we continue to grow national television exposure and ratings, our priority as an industry going forward is to convert this higher level of interest into across-the-board handle and attendance gains--which we are already seeing on many of the higher-profile days on the racing calendar."The ESPN Sports Poll, of which the NTRA has been a client since the late 1990s, conducts monthly telephone surveys to track interest in major sports. Respondents who say they are either "a little bit interested", "somewhat interested," or "very interested" in a sport are included in the fan base.