The re-entry of Magna Entertainment's seven racetracks into the National Thoroughbred Racing Association is expected to have an immediate impact on the NTRA's winter television schedule on ESPN and ESPN2, beginning with its first telecast on Feb. 3. That telecast will feature the Donn Handicap (gr. I) from Gulfstream Park and the Strub Stakes (gr. II) and San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) from Santa Anita. Both tracks are owned by Magna, whose chairman, Frank Stronach, announced on Jan. 17 in a joint statement with the NTRA that he has made a two-year commitment to rejoin the organization.
Stronach's decision came too late to get many of his tracks' premium races on the air live, however, despite the efforts of the NTRA to find time slots for them. In many cases, ESPN filled its weekend programming time months in advance, at a time when Stronach said he would not renew his NTRA membership. The NTRA said it would only feature races from member racetracks, or tracks that had a standing contract with Winner Communications when the racing assets of the Tulsa, Okla., company were purchased by NTRA Productions.
For example, as things now stand, none of Gulfstream's top races for 3-year-olds will be shown live, including the Jan. 27 Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II), the Feb. 17 Fountain of Youth (gr. I), or the March 10 Florida Derby (gr. I). Airtime for a racing telecast is not available on those dates, said an official at NTRA Productions, which produces the ESPN and ESPN2 telecasts. On March 10, ESPN and ESPN2 will be televising NCAA basketball conference tournaments throughout the day and night. The Florida Derby (shown in previous years on ABC) and Fountain of Youth probably will be replayed on telecasts the following days on ESPN or ESPN2. The Feb. 18 telecast was expected to feature the Risen Star Stakes for 3-year-olds at Fair Grounds, and the March 11 show will feature that track's premier race, the Louisiana Derby (gr. II).
There is a good possibility the April 7 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) will be broadcast live on ESPN or ESPN2. Previously, it was expected the April 7 telecast would only feature the Lone Star Derby from Lone Star Park and Illinois Derby (gr. II) at Sportsman's Park. Fox Sports holds the rights to Santa Anita's other major 3-year-old race, the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II), and is expected to broadcast that event on Fox Sports West (available in Southern California and via satellite).
The NTRA hopes to release its complete winter-spring television schedule later this week.