NTRA Sponsor to Help Support State-Bred Championships

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association will soon announce that a high-profile sponsor will kick in funds to supplement purses on state-bred championship days, officials said Feb. 3.

The move comes at a time when NTRA Purchasing is making considerable gains. After only one month in 2004, it appears the program is well on its way to meeting or exceeding its annual sales projections.

NTRA commissioner Tim Smith briefly mentioned the state-bred sponsorship plan at a Feb. 3 luncheon during the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association winter convention in New Orleans. Smith later said details, including the sponsor, would be forthcoming.

"One sponsor will put extra prize money into state championship days," Smith said during his talk. "So if you're on the fence (about joining the NTRA), consider it."

Smith and Keith Chamblin, NTRA senior vice president of marketing and industry relations, met Feb. 3 with the National HBPA executive committee. Chamblin usually attends meetings of horsemen's associations and said efforts continue to sign up more horsemen's groups. Among those he planned to speak with are the Louisiana HBPA and the Mountaineer HBPA.

Only states in which horsemen's groups are members would be eligible for the championship day purse supplements.

Chamblin said the state-bred championship day supplements would amount to marketing dollars being converted to purse dollars. Though details haven't been released, the supplements probably would be for Breeders' Cup-nominated horses, he said.

The program wouldn't be tied to the NTRA Great State Challenge, which was inaugurated in 2002 and not held in 2003. The future of the event, designed to pit the top state-breds from around the country in a one-day championship, remains up in the air for now.

State-bred championship days are held in many racing states, including Louisiana, where Delta Downs on Feb. 7 will hold the first "Premier Night" -- 10 state-bred events worth more than $1 million, and Fair Grounds offers its Louisiana Champions Day in December. Though all the Louisiana tracks are NTRA members, the Louisiana HBPA isn't a member.

The NTRA for some time has wooed horsemen's groups and has devised specialized programs that give members something in return for their dues. The soon-to-be-announced championship day supplement program is the latest such carrot.

On the sponsorship front, Smith said the companies now on board such as Dodge, John Deere, and Nextel have helped subsidize television coverage of horse racing and put marketing dollars back into the sport.