CBS Taking Over 'Champions' Series

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association announced Thursday that the "NTRA Champions" series is moving to CBS next year. An abbreviated version of the series, which began in 1999 on the Fox network, will begin after the Triple Crown and include races on the dirt and turf. CBS will air four shows spanning five hours and each show will feature a dirt race and turf race.

According to the announcement, the "NTRA Champions" series on CBS Sports will begin on Sunday, June 10, 2001 (4:00-5:00 p.m. ET) with the grade II Brooklyn Handicap (won this year by Lemon Drop Kid) from Belmont Park in New York and the grade I Charles Whittingham Handicap, a top grass event, from Hollywood Park in California. The series continues on Saturday, June 16, 2001 and Sunday, July 1, 2001 (4:30-6:00 p.m. ET, both days) and is expected to conclude on Saturday, July 28, 2001 (3:00-4:00 p.m., ET) with the grade I Whitney Handicap from historic Saratoga
Racecourse in upstate New York, pending Board approval by the New York Racing Association.

In addition to offering $2.5 million in purses to competing horses, the "NTRA Champions" series races on CBS will be linked by a bonus offering an estimated $500,000 in supplements.

The series must move because Fox lost most of its windows for horse racing after signing major contracts with Major League Baseball and NASCAR. Last month, Fox signed a $2.5-billion contract to be the exclusive carrier of Major League Baseball's post-season and All-Star games through 2006. The network has a NASCAR contract that covers the first six months of 2001.

Last year, Fox broadcast five, one-hour programs for the "NTRA Champions on Fox Series" and carried an additional four hours of racing on its regional sports network affiliates. Whether the Fox network will carry any racing next year is still undetermined, the source said.

A point system similar to the one used this year will be used, and bonuses will be offered to the horse or horses that perform the best throughout the series. The racing schedule, however, is significantly tighter than last year so horses will not be expected to start in every race.

CBS has provided spotty horse racing coverage throughout the 1990s and has at one time or another carried each of the Triple Crown races. It's last Kentucky Derby (gr. I) broadcast was in 1974, it stopped broadcasting the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) in 1976, and the last Belmont Stakes (gr. I ) program was in 1984.

"We are pleased to announce that CBS Sports, with its great track record in sports programming, has come back to horseracing, becoming a broadcast partner with the NTRA," said NTRA commissioner Tim Smith. "We look forward to showcasing the finest stakes racing our sport has to offer in this time frame, when interest in our sport is traditionally high."

"CBS Sports is delighted with our new association with the 'NTRA Champions' series, a pair of first class series that includes the nation's premier races for older horses on both turf and dirt," said Rob Correa, senior vice president--programming, CBS Sports. The Champions series on turf will serve as a new addition to the summer racing calendar and will connect some of the top grass races in America. Featuring races from Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago, the Turf series also will offer a bonus linked to the series races, the NTRA announcement said.