'Tour' Talks Progress; No Series Until 2006

The Thoroughbred Championship Tour, which calls for a realigned, beefed up series of stakes leading up to the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, is officially a scratch for 2005 but should be ready to go in 2006, an organizer said.

TCT chief executive officer Dan Metzger, also president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, said he met Dec. 22 with D.G. Van Clief Jr., commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and president of Breeders' Cup, to review a final agreement. The NTRA and Breeders' Cup have committed finances and television time to the TCT.

"We always realized 2005 was ambitious," Metzger said. "It was realistic, but some issues facing the TCT wouldn't allow it to get off to the start it needs. We don't want to stumble out of the gate. The issues were out of everybody's control."

Metzger wasn't officially named CEO of the series until late July 2004. At about the same time, Tim Smith announced he would resign as NTRA commissioner effective Sept. 1. Since then, the NTRA has been in transition.

Breeders' Cup in June approved an agreement in principle with the TCT whereby it would contribute $18 million--$3 million a year for six years--to support the series. In September, it authorized up to $750,000 in additional funds for the Breeders' Cup Stakes program to facilitate resolution of purse-funding issues tied to the TCT.

Metzger noted an agreement in principle was hammered out in June, but a few issues required negotiation. He said a final document should be signed by early January.

"We're trying to get it done by the first quarter of 2005," Metzger said.

TCT investors would have equity in the series, which will rely on the cooperation of racetracks and horsemen's groups regarding stakes schedules, purses, and a revenue-through-handle formula. The races, to be held from July through October, will be for the six older-horse divisions, with purses ranging from $500,000 to $1 million. Year-end bonuses would be paid based on a points system.

Many of the stakes are held at tracks in California and New York. Metzger said he has productive meetings with "several key tracks" in the last month.

The overall concept of the TCT remains intact, Metzger said. Some business aspects of it may hinge on negotiations with the tracks, he said.

The year-end bonus scheme and points system are considered key to the series, said Metzger, who would like to see Thoroughbred racing follow the success of another major sport.

"There is no question NASCAR had a better product (in 2004) because it had a points system that made drivers compete," he said.

The NASCAR systems awards points based on performance in each race, with an emphasis on participation. The TCT is predicated on commitments from horse owners to race their horses in TCT races.