GENERATING FAN excitement has been a problem in the horse racing industry. A new concept, starting tomorrow at Pimlico, aims to change that. Over the spring, summer and fall, 35 races in five states will form the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships, or MATCH, with $3.5 million in purses and $500,000 in bonuses for the top ten owners and trainers in the series.
Racing officials are trying to copy the highly successful "leader board" point totals applied on the golf, tennis and NASCAR circuits. Nearly every week from now until early October, there will be a MATCH race at one of the nine participating tracks, with bonus points awarded to the top four finishers. That bonus money should prove enticing to horsemen.
The proximity of the nine tracks in this New Jersey-Virginia series and a rationalization of stakes events should encourage horsemen to schedule their best entries for MATCH. This should also stimulate interest in simulcast wagering, especially as the end of MATCH nears. Adding to the appeal, ESPN2 cable network will broadcast 12 of the races, including five division championship finals on Oct. 4.
Horse racing suffers from lagging fan support. Thoroughbred officials, without any help from corporate sponsors, fashioned the MATCH events to appeal to sports lovers in the region, many of whom are not serious racing buffs. This series might give thoroughbred events more pizazz, as fans become familiar with the horses participating in the seven-race schedule for each division and start rooting for their favorites on the leader board week after week -- and on a new Internet web site.
The fun begins tomorrow with Pimlico's Federico Tesio Stakes, a $150,000 event for 3-year-olds running a mile and an eighth on the dirt track. It ends with a grand multi-state day of racing on Oct. 4. Horse racing needs a boost in fan support. The MATCH series, even in its infancy, could prove a winner.
Pub Date: 4/18/97