'Great State Challenge' Generates Interest

National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Breeders' Cup officials said Thursday the new "Great State Challenge" program has the potential to open up many new sponsorship opportunities for horse racing. The program, which will feature the top state-breds in the country, will be held sometime in the last three months of 2002.

Damon Thayer, vice president of the Breeders' Cup and event marketing, said the program at six races should generate large, competitive fields; healthy pari-mutuel handle; an increase in Breeders' Cup nominations; and value for companies that want to increase their exposure.

"We've already had a tremendous amount of interest from current and potential sponsors," Thayer said during the second day of the NTRA's annual meeting in Lexington.

There will be six races, each worth $250,000, for the following divisions: Juvenile (seven furlongs), Juvenile Fillies (seven furlongs), Sprint (six furlongs), Turf (3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles), Distaff (fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up, at 1 1/16 miles), and the Classic (3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles). Each stakes will be weight-for-age invitational with a maximum field of 14.

The top eight states in terms of dues-paying horsemen's groups -- California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Texas -- will automatically earn one starting spot per race. Up to six other horses in each race will be selected by a panel of racing secretaries.

Pam Blatz-Murff, senior vice president of Breeders' Cup operations, said the top state in the challenge will be selected via a point system -- 10 for first, 8 for second, 6 for third, 4 for fourth, and 2 for fifth -- in each of the six races. Therefore, the top state probably won't be known until the final race in the series.

Horsemen's associations must be members of the NTRA for horses from their states or jurisdictions to participate in the program. All members of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association would qualify, but some Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association affiliates aren't members of the NTRA, such as the two organizations in Pennsylvania. That state last week held its first state-bred day at Philadelphia Park.

David Hooper, executive director of the Texas Thoroughbred Association, suggested the Great State Challenge be held in conjunction with the Breeders' Cup each year so that owners and breeders become more involved in the program. He also said the date should be firm each year so each state can plan its own schedule accordingly.

In other business, Jim Gallagher, executive director of the NTRA's Racing Integrity and Drug Testing Task Force said another report will be ready for release in early December at the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing. The about 500 remaining samples are being tested for Class 4, or therapeutic, medications.

Dr. Scot Waterman, director of methods and procedures for the task force, said the effort to streamline and improve drug-testing procedures will require funding, industry support, a high percentage of participation by laboratories, and a "collegial, educational atmosphere." An update is expected in December.

NTRA commissioner Tim Smith said uniformity in medication rules, which vary by urisdiction, will not be addressed by the task force. He did say, though, that if the task force's efforts "lead to uniformity in other areas, that would be an added benefit."

The NTRA also announced that former racetrack executive Richard Cummings has been hired as a part-time field representative. Cummings resides in Lexington.

NTRA board member Jim McAlpine, a top official with Magna Entertainment, took to the podium Thursday morning to congratulate NTRA executives on a job well done in the past year. Magna and its racetracks left the NTRA last year, but rejoined a few months later after the company's concerns were addressed.

"The organization has done a great job, but I'm disappointed looking out in the audience and not seeing as big a participation as we could have from the membership," McAlpine said. "It's a challenge for us to have broader participation. A heck of lot of work went into these two days."

The sessions on Wednesday and Thursday were lightly attended given the fact they were held in Lexington, which boasts many NTRA members. Officials said travel considerations played in role in decisions by out-of-towners not to come.