TrackNet to Offer Claiming Crown to Rivals

Saying it was responding to the pleas of horsemen, TrackNet Media Group will offer Aug. 4 Claiming Crown racing at Ellis Park to arch-rivals TVG and Youbet.com, though a company executive said the move doesn’t indicate a softening of the hard lines drawn by the parties.

Scott Daruty, president of the TrackNet joint content venture of Churchill Downs and Magna Entertainment, said he decided to make the Claiming Crown available after hearing passionate discussions at the recent National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association summer convention in Colonial Williamsburg, Va.

“They thought we should do this in good faith -- and I left the meeting (on July 20) willing to think about it,” said Daruty of TrackNet, a provider of racing content formed in March just as TVG’s exclusive contracts with Churchill Downs began to expire. “I thought about it, and felt they were right.”

Horsemen said the only other time the Claiming Crown was on HRTV – which is now co-owned by Churchill Downs and Magna Entertainment – the handle fell by 50%.

It isn’t immediately clear how TVG will act on the offer, as company officials did not respond to a request for comment. Youbet.com pays sub-license fees to TVG.

Despite the decision, Daruty said TrackNet was not budging off its business model of developing a non-exclusive advance deposit wagering environment. The exclusivity issue has been at the heart of discussions – or the lack thereof -- with TVG, which for years has championed exclusive agreements.

“We would love nothing more than to exchange all of our content with TVG and Youbet,” Daruty said, noting that the exclusivity issue had created a negotiating “impasse” between the companies. “I would not say there are no discussions, but I wouldn’t say there are any ‘active’ talks, either.”

The Claiming Crown will be run for the first time at Ellis Park. Since its inception in 1999, the Claiming Crown has been held seven times at Canterbury Park in Minnesota and once at Philadelphia Park. Similar in format to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, the Claiming Crown has a purse of $600,000 for seven races that feature claiming horses.

Ellis Park is owned by Ron Geary, who acquired the Hendersonville, Ky., racetrack from Churchill Downs in 2006. Geary was not immediately available for comment.

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