Racing from Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields would be available on the television network TVG under a content swap agreement currently being negotiated, an executive from The Stronach Group told the California Horse Racing Board.
Scott Daruty, representing track owner The Stronach Group, told the board meeting at the Del Mar simulcast center July 19 that the one-year deal hinges on a guarantee for racing dates in 2013 for Betfair Hollywood Park.
Under the deal, TVG would receive the right to broadcast races from Santa Anita's winter/spring meet in 2012-13 as well as Golden Gate Fields, which operates nearly year-round in Northern California. In exchange, The Stronach Group's racing channel, HRTV, would gain the right to broadcast Hollywood Park's spring/summer meet as well as its fall/winter stand. Both meets are currently exclusive to TVG, which is owned by Betfair.
The news was met enthusiastically by board commissioners, who have been pressuring Santa Anita officials to improve television distribution for at least the past three years. Santa Anita airs over HRTV, which is not carried on satellite giant DirecTV.
Efforts to get HRTV, which is on DISH satellite and several cable outlets in Southern California, on the DirecTV platform have not been successful, Daruty told the board, though they are still working on it. The alternative, he said, is to place Santa Anita and Golden Gate on TVG.
"If we allow TVG to broadcast Sana Anita and Golden Gate, it makes HRTV basically irrelevant," Daruty said, unless TVG would be willing to swap Hollywood Park content.
A TVG representative said the network is still considering the proposal and is in discussion with Hollywood Park.
There are two obstacles to the deal going through. First, there can be no guarantee of race dates for Hollywood Park since the CHRB will not begin its deliberations on the 2013 race date calendar until its next meeting scheduled Aug. 23 at Del Mar. Second, Hollywood Park, which is under threat of redevelopment and could close its doors at any time, will only provide the industry with six months' notice of its intent to shut down.
The topic came up during a discussion of the Los Angeles Turf Club's application to operate Santa Anita's upcoming 24-day autumn meet. The dates, from Sept. 28 to Nov. 4 (including the Breeders' Cup World Championships), were later approved. Technically, the applicant is Los Angeles Turf Club II, a separate entity under The Stronach Group formed to comply with state restrictions on the number of weeks a racing association can operate in a given zone.
Lou Raffetto, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, said a deal to expand the television signal would be acceptable to horsemen with a guarantee from Hollywood Park to remain open for the full year.
There have been rumblings recently, board vice chairman David Israel noted, that long-delayed redevelopment plans for Hollywood may be picking up momentum. However, there has been no official word from the track's property owner.
"This board is in the position of improving the promotion of horse racing," said chairman Keith Brackpool, who has been a big critic of Santa Anita's spotty television distribution. "It's a huge, huge move forward. I think we need to make this happen and we need to make it happen as soon as possible."
Brackpool led the CHRB to delay approval of Santa Anita's autumn race dates last year over the television issue. He said that while a move to TVG would be a boon to wagering handle at Santa Anita, he's most concerned about getting Golden Gate Fields more visibility.
"The north (Golden Gate) is in vital need of help," Brackpool said. "What is disturbing to me is that every day we wait right now to get this agreement signed, the north is being hurt."
There were no representatives from Hollywood Park available to discuss the matter at the meeting. The track is expected to request its traditional race dates next month.
In other action, the board gave final approval to a rule adding the drugs ractopamine and zilpaterol to its list of prohibited substances for veterinary use. Both drugs are listed as Category III substances by Racing Commissioners International as potentially performance-enhancing. The board took the action unanimously without comment.
Ractopamine is a beta agonist similar to clenbuterol and is used as a feed additive to increase weight gain in livestock. It helps develop muscle mass by keeping nutrients from going into fat stores. The board recently approved a rule change to require a 21-day withdrawal time for clenbuterol.
Zilpaterol is an adrenergic agonist drug used as a feed additive to promote rapid weight and muscle gain in cattle to be slaughtered.
The board also gave the advance deposit wagering firm Twinspires, owned by Churchill Downs Inc., approval to amend its application for a new domain address. The company said it plans to launch a social gaming website, Luckity.com, on Sept. 30.
Brad Blackwell, representing Churchill Downs, said Luckity.com is an attempt to introduce non-traditional racing fans to the sport through games based around, for example, colors of silks or favorite numbers. The betting, however, would be with real money, he said.
"It's intended to be more appealing to the casual social gamer," he said.