National Thoroughbred League Launching in 2023 with Teams in Six Cities

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National Thoroughbred League, horse racing teams
The National Thoroughbred League will launch in 2023 with teams in Los Angeles, Nashville, New Jersey, New York, Seattle, and Tampa (Eclipse Sportswire)

Keeping Thoroughbred racing's biggest stars competing longer and building around them city-based leagues, similar to what exists with other major professional team sports, are the goals behind a new venture called the National Thoroughbred League.

"Imagine if you had (horses like) Flightline and American Pharoah and Smarty Jones still racing against one another, what kind of attention that would bring to Thoroughbred racing," said Randall Lane, a co-founder with Robert Daugherty of the new National Thoroughbred League.

The NTL formally announced its teams, owners, and racing schedule on May 23.

"We have been working on this more than a year and it comes from a love of Thoroughbred racing and desire to offer something to bring the sport that we love to new audiences. We think we have a formula to do that," said Lane, who is the chief content officer for Forbes and helped grow its U.S readership to 6.7 million by emphasizing young innovators and disruptors.

"One is by leaning in on the things that work. One is creating stars. Horse racing is the only sport that retires its stars as soon as they become famous. Second is to create a team affinity so people have something to root for consistently, and finally to create, like we have seen at the Preakness Stakes and Kentucky Derby, a pageant and a spectacle, because we know people love those deluxe weekends. Big races are a cause for celebration."

Lane and Daugherty are also owner-operators for the New York and Los Angeles teams, respectively. Managing partners in the other markets feature top financiers and entrepreneurs, including Joe Besecker and Michael M. Carter (Philadelphia), Bruno and Victor Costa (New Jersey), Terry McCrary (Seattle), and Gene Rice (Nashville). The NTL already has a partnership in place with Wazuzu Racing, a leader in Thoroughbred tokenization and blockchain applications, co-founded by Besecker, who has won more than 1,000 races as an owner.

The team owners were recruited by Lane and Daughtery and invested a "good amount," according to Lane, to own their league franchises. The NTL will now purchase active racehorses and make them available to the teams to build a six-horse roster through a draft that will be held in August.

The NTL begins with a series of five events, called Cups, that will feature three races run consecutively. Each of the six teams will have a horse in each race that will be worth a set number of points. While the league will offer purses, the goal for each team is to accumulate the most points during the series in order to claim a $1 million bonus at the end of the season. During each Cup, one of the three races will be worth more points than the others.

"That will drive the drama and strategy of the races. We'll make the roster of the teams' horses as balanced as possible and then it will then be up to the team owners how they enter them," said Tom Ludt, a longtime Thoroughbred industry professional, who has been involved in the early development of the league. Ludt will acquire the participating horses that will be required to compete only in NTL races.

"This is a start-up, so the challenge will be finding the right balance," he said. "We will look at a lot of dirt sprinters because of the emphasis, but we will have turf horses. I expect we'll have a race for fillies and races for 3- and 4-year-old colts."

All the horses acquired will be owned by the league that will grant the rights to race the horses to the teams. If a horse can no longer race and needs to be retired, the league has an agreement with the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance to be sure the horse finds a new home. Keeping healthy horses in training and competing is required of each team, which cannot on its own sell a horse to another owner or as a breeding prospect.

"We want to build long-term for the fans and for the sport," said Lane. "Teams are drafting the right to race the horse for the entirety of its career, but when it is done racing, it goes back to the league. If you come up with the next Flightline, we don't want teams deciding they're going to retire him to stud. This league is built around finding those Flightlines but keeping them racing."

Lane and Ludt said the health of the horses will continue to be paramount, even as they look to extend their racing careers. The NTL is currently looking to hire a chief equine medical adviser, according to Ludt, who said he has been in contact with a number of renowned veterinarians.

"We will have our health committee on top of the HISA rules and requirements and those soundness issues will be monitored constantly," he said, referring to the national Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority. "We will do whatever is best for the horse."

On the ownership side, the managing partners have recruited some celebrity owners for their teams and hope to attract more, according to Lane. Among the commitments so far are rapper Nelly, rapper and record executive Rick Ross, and Kayvon Thibodeaux, who is a linebacker for the NFL New York Giants.

"Kayvon Thibodeaux is one of the rising stars on the Giants, but he also brings fresh ideas about attracting audiences and the best practices of running a franchise, from inside the NFL," said Lane, who recruited him for the New York ownership team. "We have some well-known horse owners and some who are new to the sport but successful in business who have fresh ideas. That is the big opportunity here. By going outside the industry, too, we will see a greater diversity that will create a much better atmosphere for our events. This is one of the great American traditions and we want to add to that tradition."

New York-based trainer Chad Brown will be the conditioner for the New York team, according to Lane, but teams are not required to use a single trainer, like an NFL team has a general manager or head coach.

"We encourage (using a single trainer) but it is up to the team. They could use multiple trainers if they want. Spiritually, you have a go-to trainer and a go-to jockey that you can root for time after time," said Lane.

Tampa will host the NTL Cup Finals in December. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The league will handle promotions for the racing weekends, but each team will be handling the promotion of its own franchise within its market and building its own brand through merchandise.

"We want the ownership structure to encourage experimentation and investment in local markets," said Lane.

Down the road, the league hopes to grow through sponsorships at its events and envisions possible revenue-sharing agreements with the racetracks once the races build an audience and following.

The six original teams will represent New York, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Seattle, Nashville, and Philadelphia, with names, logos, and uniforms to be unveiled next month.

The inaugural 2023 NTL Season One schedule will be:

Sept. 2-3: Nashville (Kentucky Downs)

Sept. 15-16: Seattle (Emerald Downs)

Oct. 13-14: New York and New Jersey (Meadowlands)

Nov. 10-11: Los Angeles (Los Alamitos Race Course)

Dec. 30-31: Tampa, Championship Weekend (Tampa Bay Downs)

Tickets will go on sale starting Tuesday, May 23, and can be found at the NTL official website.

"I see this as a grand slam for the racetracks. We are bringing excitement and exposure at our expense," said Ludt. "For owners, we are also creating a new reach into an audience we have not done before. Everything we are doing is helping racing—helping fans, helping owner, helping tracks."

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