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Start Your Horses: The National Thoroughbred League to Debut This Fall

The six-team, city-based horse racing league will debut this fall with five F1-style race weekends and boasts team owners such as Rick Ross and Baron Davis.

Beyond the Triple Crown races in May and June, it’s historically been difficult to get mainstream audiences interested in horse racing. Last year’s Breeders Cup reportedly drew under 1 million viewers for the second time in a decade. This fall, horse racing fans will see a new approach in the form of a team-focused, city-based league that embraces a festival-like atmosphere popularized by Formula 1 race weekends highlighting food, fashion, musical events, and parties.

The National Thoroughbred League (NTL), a six-team league co-founded by investor Robert Daugherty and Forbes chief content officer Randall Lane, will debut in the fall with a five-event schedule running from September to December, the league announced Tuesday. Notable team owners will include Rick Ross, Nelly, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Baron Davis, and Danny Green.

The NTL’s six teams will be based in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Seattle with all but Philadelphia getting home races in front of local fans. Team names, logos, and uniforms will be announced next month with the event schedule as follows:

  • Sept. 2-3: Nashville, at Kentucky Downs
  • Sept. 15-16: Seattle, at Emerald Downs
  • Oct. 13-14: New York and New Jersey, at Meadowlands Racetrack
  • Nov. 10-11: Los Angeles, at Los Alamitos Race Course
  • Dec. 30-31: Championship weekend in Tampa, at Tampa Bay Downs
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The opening event during Labor Day weekend will feature a major concert and a whiskey and bourbon lawn party featuring Pappy Van Winkle, while New York’s weekend will have a trackside celebrity chef cooking competition in conjunction with the New York City Wine and Food Festival.

“It’s so exciting to reimagine it all for new fans and a new generation,” Lane said.

Here’s how competitions will work:

Each NTL race weekend will feature three co-ed races, with colts and fillies as well as both male and female jockeys competing on the same teams, and horses remaining on the same teams year after year, with the ability to follow them longer than the traditional Triple Crown model. Horses from all six teams will compete in all three races, with teams picking up points to determine a winner at the end of each competition. A season winner will be crowned in Tampa with a $1 million grand prize.

The league promises top talent, having already brought in former Breeders Cup chairman Tom Ludt as the president of horse operations, with team trainers including Chad Brown, representing New York, and Steve Rasmussen, as well as jockeys Mike Smith and Chantal Sutherland, the latter of who will represent LA. An independent chief safety officer will mandate which horses can run, and NTL will adhere to new standards set by the federal Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA). Team managing partners will include Joe Besecker and Mike Carter (Philadelphia), Bruno and Victor Costa (New Jersey), Terry McCrary (Seattle), and Gene Rice (Nashville).

“The idea of introducing a team-based competition structure, akin to other sports, with a focus on engaging a new wave of fans, resonated with me instantly,” Sutherland said.

Management Plus Enterprises — which previously owned AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour, helped build the business brands of Shaquille O’Neal and Oscar de la Hoya, and co-created the NBA Tech Summit — will bring in execs Leonard Armato and Lexie King as COO and general manager, respectively. Former NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird will serve as the chair of the NTL advisory board.

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