The National Steeplechase Association kicked off the new year Friday with a special conference that allowed more than 160 members and nonmembers to share ideas on fostering the sport. The inaugural one-day seminar was geared toward the sanctioned race meets as well as the unsanctioned point-to-point circuit.

Because steeplechasing in the grand scheme of sports is so minuscule, the first thing discussed was marketing: how to get the sport to a larger audience and how successful race meets are presented, organized, sponsored and advertised. The race directors of Far Hills (New Jersey), Winterthur and Willowdale (Pennsylvania), Charleston (South Carolina) and Gold Cup (Virginia)--some of the larger meets discussed--revealed their best-kept secrets on how to produce a safe, fun and prosperous event for people of all ages and interests.

Traffic was a big topic, although Jon von Stade, co-chairman of the Far Hills Race Meeting Association, has the benefit of being able to put one-third of his spectators on the New Jersey trains. That said, he recommended using some sort of transit authority whenever possible.

Many of the presenters said the use of aerial photography every year, at the same time of day, helps them identify traffic problems. Janet Davis, director of corporate relations and events at the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library and race chairman of Winterthur Point-to-Point, added that getting people to the race course earlier in the day and enticing them with lots of nonhorse events really helps alleviate traffic obstacles.

Davis also was suggesting her designated driver tent, a program she said has increased in popularity every year.

"Each person who is the designated driver receives a hospital arm band," she said, "[and] is given free sodas and nonalcoholic beverages all day from various participating tents."

Because of the tremendous drought and subsequent poor track conditions last year--which forced many trainers to scratch horses--proper turf care was also a serious subject.

The brightest idea: getting a big landscaping company or a national sponsor to help with turf concerns in exchange for splashing its logo everywhere.

But Guy J. Torsilieri, who chaired the race course management and safety table topic during lunch, said the key is being in control of the race course year-round.

"The fastest way to break down a horse is to have inconsistent going--soft in some places, rock hard in others," he said. "Your road crossings have got to be the same consistency [as] your turf. You need to repair your course immediately after use.

"Aerate, fertilize and deep waterings are the way to keep it going. Small amounts of waterings or inconsistent waterings will not give you the deep root base that keeps your turf consistent. Keep it cut at seven to eight inches, and never make hay off it."

Note: NSA officials announced Friday that the $100,000 Sport of Kings Challenge has added a $250,000 bonus, which will go to the stable that wins all three legs in a single season. Last year, Chip Miller jockeyed Clorevia Farm's Popular Gigalo (Hume) to victories in two of them.