The National Thoroughbred Racing Association was expected the week of Jan. 7 to fully acquire EquiSource, a corporation that managed group purchasing for the association. Once the deal is closed, a new organization called NTRA Purchasing will be formed."The goal is to combine group purchasing with sponsorships," said Greg Avioli, NTRA's deputy commissioner and chief operating officer.The NTRA is acquiring EquiSource by buying out partners Churchill Downs (35% owner) and UniStar (55% owner), a group-purchasing company that services fast-food restaurants, automobile dealers, textile manufacturers, and wood furniture and cabinet manufacturers. The NTRA owns the remaining 10% of the company. Avioli said Monday he could not discuss details of the acquisition until the deal closed.NTRA Purchasing will be run by Joe Morris, a former racetrack manager from Maine who was hired in June to run the John Deere program for EquiSource. John Deere has provided the most valuable and successful program among the 30 goods and services offered through EquiSource since it formed in 1997. NTRA members are eligible to receive discounts up to 23% on large-model John Deere tractors, but most haven't taken advantage of the savings because they simply didn't know it was available. Morris was hired to invigorate the program, and he did. Between June and Dec. 31, sales through the John Deere program rose 90%. Sales for the year were more than $10 million compared with $6.7 million in 2000.John Deere is the perfect example of how the group-purchasing can be tied to sponsorships. The company was so pleased with the EquiSource program that it upgraded from a $100,000 presenting sponsorship to a seven-figure title sponsorships to the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. I). John Deere's sponsorship includes key Breeders' Cup prep races and an involvement in the Great State Challenge, a new championship that matches the top horses from various state-bred programs.Once NTRA Purchasing forms, the first thing Morris said he'll do is cut the number of contracts down to seven or eight. "We are going to talk to the members and talk to the racetracks about what they need," Morris said. "I mean, we're not talking about luxury items. We're talking about the stuff they have to have. We want to provide a significant discount by leveraging the buying power of the industry."Other companies expected to carryover into NTRA Purchasing include Sherwin-Williams, IKON office supplies and equipment, Kimberly-Clark paper products, and Airborne Express shipping. Penske Auto Centers, a new title sponsor of the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) race and division, is expected to be added.