Horsemen: Don't Hold Triple Crown Races 'Hostage'

Major horsemen’s groups banded together May 2 to ask racetracks and account wagering providers to make the Triple Crown races available to all wagering services in light of a conflict that is spreading ill will as horse racing’s most prominent and lucrative day approaches.

The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders, Thoroughbred Owners of California, and Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association issued a joint release concerning the breakdown in negotiations between TrackNet Media Group--a signal-selling partnership between Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment Corp.--and TVG. The two parties have been unable to strike a content-sharing deal.

CDI and MEC own the rights to the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and the May 19 Preakness Stakes (gr. I). TVG, through its exclusive agreement with the New York Racing Association, has account wagering rights to the June 9 Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

The horsemen’s groups claim the Triple Crown races are being held “hostage” by the impasse. The Triple Crown races, they said, raise awareness of racing and help create new fans, and therefore should be made available to all parties.

Derby day is widely viewed as an public relations opportunity for Thoroughbred racing. In addition, Derby day is the largest handle-wise, so horsemen benefit in that regard. Observers suggested the current account wagering mess could impact handle May 5.

“The Triple Crown races belong to America and transcend corporate ownership,” TOBA chairman Bill Casner said. “The managing entities, as responsible custodians, should refrain from using these races as negotiating tools. There is a potential loss of revenue to horsemen and tracks, and it creates a disruption of service to our customers.

“We would hope that in the best interest of our fans and industry, that TVG and TrackNet could negotiate a temporary exchange of content that would allow these races to be available to all.”

“While the ‘property’ of three individual racetracks, the Triple Crown really is an industry asset and treasure,” TOC president Drew Couto said. “Prior management of those tracks understood that while they were entitled to enjoy the fruits of that ownership, tradition requires of them that they serve as stewards of the Triple Crown, for the sake of history, the industry, and most importantly, racing’s fans.

“In TOC’s opinion, it is a travesty that TrackNet and TVG have determined that leveraging these great races--at this time--is a valid and prudent business strategy. To the contrary, we see that strategy as flawed and uniquely self-serving, benefiting no others in the industry, in particular the fans.”

“I join with my fellow horsemen’s representatives in urging TrackNet and TVG to enter into a content swap for this year’s Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup,” THA chief executive officer Alan Foreman said. “Racing is on the world stage right now unlike any other time of the year for our sport, and we have to put our best foot forward to promote new fans and cultivate our existing fan base. This is the wrong time to be confusing the public and alienating our customers.

“Putting them in the middle of an industry dispute is the last thing we need. Horsemen have a vital interest in insuring that our product is available to everyone. Let’s celebrate the best of our sport while we have the world stage and leave a resolution of the dispute to another time.”

“I commend all the horsemen’s organizations for taking this position,” National HBPA president Joe Santanna said. “The Thoroughbred racing industry, its dedicated horse owners, trainers, breeders, and most of all its loyal fans should not have their ability to enjoy the Triple Crown races withheld. Every Thoroughbred horse racing fan in the United States believes they have ‘ownership rights’ to these races.”

The four groups said they agree that as long as horsemen receive their fair share of revenue from pari-mutuel handle, having multiple account wagering providers will increase investment in “technology, customer service, and marketing of the sport.”

On May 3, TVG issued a statement saying it has always appreciated the ability to participate in the Triple Crown and present it to customers, and desired to do so again this year.

"From the inception of our business until Churchill Downs combined with Magna Entertainment to form TrackNet Media, TVG has participated in the Kentucky Derby," said the statement issued by TVG general manager David Nathanson. "Likewise, TVG participated in the Preakness Stakes until Magna Entertainment acquired Pimlico Race Course several years ago. In both instances, we licensed rights we had for wagering on those events to other (advance deposit wagering) providers. We have attempted to negotiate with TrackNet Media and its owners in good faith, but thus far have not seen any terms from them indicating a strong desire to reach a mutually beneficial long-term agreement.

"It is unfortunate for TVG's customers and other account wagering providers who have been blocked from taking wagers on the Kentucky Derby that it appears the situation will not be resolved in advance of the first leg of the Triple Crown.  We remain open to negotiating an agreement with TrackNet that is in the best interest of the racing industry, the respective parties, and ultimately, the racing fan."

In a separate release, TOC officials blasted TrackNet and TVG in particular. “In my opinion, their ‘stewardship’ of our signals over the past five years has been an embarrassment to them and to the tracks that enabled their unilateral exploitation of what are really our signals," TOC vice president Mace Siegel said.

The TOC board of directors believes TrackNet’s strategy to broaden distribution of signals by prohibiting participating account wagering providers from accepting wagers on non-TrackNet content required the adoption of an exclusive distribution system similar to TVG's, which TrackNet has criticized.

“TOC told TrackNet it needed to make genuine changes to include horsemen as bona fide partners if they really want our support,” TOC chairman Alan Landsburg said. "In the past, MEC and Churchill have not fulfilled their pledges to California racing, and did not take advantage of opportunities to improve the distribution of California race signals in ways that would benefit all of us, most importantly the fans."

As of May 2, it appeared there would be no resolution to the content dispute, which has left bettors confused and displeased. It has become increasingly difficult to keep track of which racetracks are offered by the various account wagering services.

In addition, a new May 2, though according to reports, the first day wasn’t without glitches. CDI had hoped to launch the service in time for opening day of the Churchill meet April 28 but scrambled to have it ready by May 4, Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) day.