'Greatest Game' Gets Vote of Support for 2004

The Greatest Game owner-recruitment program has plans to continue in 2004, but it could have a somewhat different look as the process of developing Thoroughbred owners continues to evolve.

During an informational session at the Keeneland sale pavilion Sept. 13, 2002, organizers of the program said it is designed to be a long-term endeavor. That hasn't changed.

The Keeneland Association, the major contributor to the program's budget, will ante up next year, Keeneland president Nick Nicholson said.

"We are totally committed," Nicholson said. "The overall objective of making it easier for people to invest in the Thoroughbred business is one that needs to stay a priority. The Greatest Game is a good vehicle to try things, and we should continue to try things.

"This is not a short-term project. It's not a project where you ever declare a final victory. If this was easy, a lot of people would have been doing it for years."

The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association serves as administrator of the recruitment program. Gay Fisher, director of marketing and communications for TOBA, said TOBA continues to analyze results from 2002, when a revamped program was introduced with television advertising and a new Web site. At the end of 2002, the Web site had 437,000 hits compared with 919,000 for the first 10 months of 2003.

An aspect of the program that matches prospects with registered bloodstock consultants began this year with a series of lotteries, the last of which was held Nov. 11. Thus far, eight people have made purchases as a result of the consultants' program, Fisher said.

Special outings at Keeneland and Saratoga over the past year and a half have produced investors as well, Fisher said. For instance, of the 12 individuals entertained at Saratoga the summer of 2002, five ended up becoming part of a pinhooking venture. The group purchased a weanling for $70,000 and sold it for $500,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale this year.

The number of owners developed by the program may not be considered adequate by some standards. The question is, just what is an acceptable number given the challenges associated with becoming a Thoroughbred owner?

"Research has said it takes five years to develop a person from introduction (to the business) to a purchase," Fisher said. "We've already shortened that period. We jumped on board full force last year...It takes more than a year to make something work."

Nicholson said the objective is to come up with new ways to attract owners. As a result of a recent brainstorming session, Nicholson said The Greatest Game might solicit white papers on methods to generate investment in the business, even at a modest level.

"It's a complex business, and perhaps there are not as many vehicles as we need for people to invest a smaller amount of money as they learn about the business," Nicholson said.