Aggregation of Rights, Purse Growth High on NTRA Agenda

With major contracts for television, sponsorship, and membership up for renewal this year, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association believes 2004 is the year that could spark major growth in horse racing for the long term, commissioner Tim Smith said.

Smith, who participated in a question-and-answer session with horsemen Feb. 3 at the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association winter convention in New Orleans, also said the NTRA board of directors intends to take a serious look at why purses have dropped despite increases in handle. He also said the board might revisit its position on alternative gaming at racetracks when it convenes for a quarterly meeting in a few weeks.

As for television, Smith again hinted at the importance of consolidation of media and sponsorship rights for all major racing events, including the Triple Crown. He said the sport took a "huge step" with consolidation of the NTRA and Breeders' Cup, but he acknowledged the potential difficulties in getting the Triple Crown under the umbrella.

"I'm confident that if we could get to a structure comparable to other sports ... we could get that type of increase in programming commitment from the networks," Smith said. "The sport is putting arrangements in place to have increased promotion of racing on television."

Smith also said the NTRA would soon unveil a new wager that would be tied to the new summer television series this year. He offered no specifics but said it would be "user-friendly" for newcomers.

"We think we can do a better job using television (to promote racing)," Smith said. "This is the perfect time to be talking about television. We want to be a bigger deal, and we should be a bigger deal on network television."

In regard to purses, Smith said there are several factors -- rebating, piracy, and betting exchanges -- that could be blamed for the dip in purses in 2003. He said the NTRA board would probably address the situation in the same manner in which it tackled wagering security in the wake of the Breeders' Cup Ultra Pick 6 fraud of 2002.

As for alternative gaming, the NTRA has approached it state by state to avoid conflicts, but that could change, Smith said. "I think it's probably time to revisit that (position) because now I sense a much broader consensus (on racinos). My guess is we could be a little more active than we have been."

Smith participated in the National HBPA executive committee meeting Feb. 3 and heard of the plan by horsemen to operate an offshore wagering hub that would accept bets from foreign residents on United States races. National HBPA president John Roark, a member of the NTRA board of directors, said the NTRA endorsed the concept, which will be voted on by the full National HBPA board Feb. 4 during the organization's general business meeting. The executive committee gave the go-ahead, Roark said.