NTRA: More TV Time, Higher Purses for Summer Stakes

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association has approved a proposal for expanded television coverage and up to $2 million in purse enhancements in the Breeders' Cup Stakes Program as part of a new-look summer racing schedule.

The NTRA board, during a meeting Dec. 4 in New York City, also authorized the hiring of a chief security officer and endorsed the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. In another move, New York Racing Association chairman Barry Schwartz replaced former NYRA president Terry Meyocks on the NTRA board.

The yet-to-be-named television series, which is said to expand the old "NTRA Summer Racing Tour" on CBS, will move to the ABC and ESPN networks. Coverage hours will expand from four to 10, officials said, and run from June through early October as a lead-in to the World Thoroughbred Championships.

Purses for some Breeders' Cup-funded stakes will rise, though one official said those specifics wouldn't be released until the first quarter of 2004. In general, however, purses will increase from $6 million to $7 million or $8 million for selected races.

The revised television schedule isn't directly connected to the Thoroughbred Championship Tour concept proposed by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. In October, the NTRA and Breeders' Cup said the expanded TV coverage and purse hikes for racing in the summer and early fall "would be designed to sustain horse racing's significant growth in popularity in 2003, but would not by themselves achieve the full slate of goals" sought by the TCT.

The Tour calls for commitments by owners to race their horses in specific races, $7.5 million in bonuses, and handle-sharing on the part of racetracks, among other things.

The hiring of a chief security officer was recommended by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose company assisted the NTRA on security issues in the wake of the Breeders' Cup Ultra Pick 6 fraud of 2003. The position will be filled by mid-December from a slate of three finalists, none of which currently work in the pari-mutuel industry, said an individual close to the situation.

The NTRA also reviewed and approved updated financial projections for 2003: operating revenue of $59,110,411, non-operating income of $104,018, and expenses of $59,248,182. Expenses include $19.8 million for purses, $18.2 million for marketing, $9 million for television, $6 million for sponsorship and group purchasing, $5.1 million for general and administrative costs, and $1 million for legislative and regulatory costs.

The preliminary 2004 operating budget is set at $66,283,000, operating expenses at $65,713,000, and combined non-operating and extraordinary expenses of $70,000 for projected net revenues of $500,000. The spending plan will be reviewed and approved during the board's meeting in February, when a two-day planning retreat will be held.

The NTRA board previously had said it supported the concept behind prevention of horse slaughter but not specific legislation. Now, it has officially endorsed the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, which is supported by organizations such as Blue Horse Charities but opposed by the American Quarter Horse Association, a supporter and member of the NTRA on several levels.