Unhappy with Santa Anita Park's plan for distribution of its television signal on racing network HRTV, the California Horse Racing Board suggested the track should broadcast its upcoming fall meet on rival TVG.
The discussion, held during the board's meeting Aug. 25 at Del Mar, came as part of consideration of a license allowing the Pacific Racing Association to operate the 24-day meet Sept. 30-Nov. 6.
And commissioners were serious. By a 5-0 vote they made the meet license conditional on approval of an improved television distribution system.
The race meet is Santa Anita's first fall stand. The dates had been run by the Oak Tree Racing Association since 1969 at Santa Anita until last year, when Oak Tree moved to Hollywood Park due to issues with Santa Anita's former synthetic track.
The CHRB granted the dates to Santa Anita this year rather than return to Oak Tree at Hollywood Park. In a deal with Oak Tree, Santa Anita purchased the rights to the names of Oak Tree's traditional stakes this year.
The former Oak Tree meet had been broadcast by TVG, which boasts a much larger distribution system than HRTV.
The board took the action after learning that plans to launch The Stronach Group's HRTV network as part of a new sports package on satellite provider DIRECTV had fallen through. In an earlier meeting, the CHRB required an improved television distribution system as part of its deal with the track owner to waive state rules governing the number of racetracks an entity can own. The Stronach Group also owns Golden Gate Fields and Santa Anita.
CHRB member David Israel, addressing Santa Anita officials, suggested The Stronach Group allow TVG to televise the fall meet.
"I understand that it may be galling and not be the way you want to do business, but it may be the only way for you to comply with the waiver," Israel said.
Other commissioners, including chairman Keith Brackpool, agreed that was an option Santa Anita needed to consider.
"I live in L.A. and I can't get you," Brackpool said. "Our goal is to get the widest possible television distribution (of Santa Anita's races)."
Under the motion approved by the CHRB, Santa Anita's license approval is subject to the final acceptance of a television distribution plan by Brackpool and the agency's executive director, Kirk Breed.
Santa Anita's races are available on HRTV through the satellite provider DISH-TV and various cable carriers, though none in the Los Angeles area. The DIRECTV negotiation was considered crucial to improving the availability of the Santa Anita signal.
Scott Daruty, representing The Stronach Group, said he had been close to a long-range deal. But another part of the agreement involving a college football package, he said, fell apart recently and the launch was delayed.
"We're back to square one waiting for the football package to launch," he said.
Daruty explained to the board that TVG's philosophy in broadcasting is to aggressively "gear its audience to its wagering platform." While HRTV is affiliated with XpressBet.com, The Stronach Group's advance deposit wagering company, its approach to viewers is not nearly as pushy, he said.
"We've had business issues with TVG, but not necessarily that we're right and they're wrong," Daruty said of the difference.
To another suggestion by the board, Daruty said paying for distribution on cable systems "is not sustainable for the long range."
Daruty suggested opening up HRTV's website race streaming would allow customers who cannot receive the racing network on television to view it on their personal computers. But board members had objections to that, contending video streaming of HRTV programming would not be compatible with many of the newer electronic devices.
"This board does not feel that what you have proposed today meets the conditions of the waiver," Brackpool said.
Under the conditional approval, Santa Anita plans to run four days per week during the fall, Thursdays through Sundays, with an added program Monday, Oct. 11. Pacific Racing Association, rather than Santa Anita's Los Angeles Turf Club, is the meet applicant because of state laws restricting the number of weeks a racing association can operate in a specific geographical zone to 17.
PRA operates Golden Golden Fields in the northern zone.
There are six grade I stakes events on the schedule, races previously conducted by Oak Tree, and they all are Breeders' Cup Challenge races. Five of them are on Oct. 1- the Norfolk, Goodwood, Yellow Ribbon, Lady's Secret, and Oak Leaf. The Ancient Title is Oct. 8.