ESPN and espn2 will expand their coverage of Saratoga racing from 1 1/2 hours to 2 1/2 hours beginning next year.

The extra coverage is part of a five-year agreement the sports networks reached Wednesday with the New York Racing Association and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Through 2005, ESPN and espn2 will cover the Travers Stakes (gr. I) and the Personal Ensign Handicap (gr. I), which runs the day before the Travers.

“We will be presenting this expanded coverage under the banner of ‘Travers Week on ESPN’ and will be working…on related marketing strategies to enhance what is one of the world’s premier races,” said Jim Wilburn, president of NTRA Productions.

This year, ESPN added a half-hour to its Travers coverage and carried live the King’s Bishop Stakes (gr. I). The extra time, however, did not translate into more viewers. The final rating on the 4-5:30 p.m. show was 0.49 with 383,040 households watching. The hour-long 1999 Travers broadcast earned a 0.54 rating and was watched by 411,324 households. The rating dip was not unexpected without any standout 3-year-olds in the field and with golf phenom Tiger Woods playing in the NEC Invitational on CBS.

“Tiger Woods takes ratings points from everybody,” said Michael Humes with ESPN.

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