'Great State Challenge' is on the Table

Depending upon the outcome of discussions at its board meeting Oct. 9, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association may announce the details of a proposed regional Breeders' Cup program during its annual meeting Oct. 10-11 in Lexington.

As of Friday, plans called for six races, each worth $250,000, to be run the day before the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. "The Great State Challenge Program," currently the working title, would be run at Arlington Park next year should the Illinois track land the 2002 World Thoroughbred Championships as expected.

The concept, designed to involve state breed associations and horsemen's groups, is said to have support from NTRA executives.

"We do have a place on our agenda (for the annual meeting) to discuss horsemen's programs," said Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of marketing and industry relations for the NTRA. "There is a plan on the table to link popular state-bred days together in the form of a national championship. Whether it will be a subject at the meeting depends on what happens at the board meeting."

In early September, Gary Biszantz, chairman of the Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association, told some of his members the plan has merit. Breeders' Cup president D.G. Van Clief Jr. at that time said details would be released later should all parties agree on a structure.

Horses would not have to be Breeders' Cup nominated to participate, though they would have to be nominated to compete for the $50,000 Breeders' Cup would contribute to each race's purse. State associations would kick in another $50,000 per race and the NTRA would provide the bulk of each purse.

The plan was discussed during a recent meeting of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association. "We like it, and we're on board," CTBA executive director Doug Burge said.

The major concern by Californians is the scheduling of Cal Cup Day, which usually falls a week before or a week after the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. Burge said that could be tweaked should the Great State Challenge take flight, so the best California-breds have a chance to compete.

Eight states -- California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Texas -- would each be guaranteed one starting slot in each race. The selection process could fall to each breeders' association, but that's another detail yet to be finalized. In addition, details as to the conditions of each of the six races weren't available.