THA: TrackNet Plans to Have Horsemen at Table

TrackNet Media Group, the entity formed by Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment Corp. to buy and sell simulcast signals, has been initially well-received by one of the country’s major horsemen’s groups.

Representatives of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which has affiliates in Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York, met April 13 with MEC executive vice president Joe De Francis as part of their annual meeting. THA chief executive officer Alan Foreman, an attorney, said the discussion was “much more positive than anyone expected.”

TrackNet Media Group, which has been described as a “content mall” for simulcast signals, was set up in early March to be a non-profit that will take a “miniscule” percentage of handle to cover costs, CDI president Bob Evans told The Blood-Horse in March. It will sell signals for other tracks and not permit sub-licensing by entities that purchase them.

Officials with racetracks and horsemen’s groups have been reluctant to comment publicly on TrackNet Media Group but privately indicated concerns CDI and MEC are attempting to control the market. Evans and MEC CEO Michael Neuman have said they hope to encourage competition, not stifle it.

“To be very candid, I don’t believe they’ve even negotiated rates with racetracks,” said Foreman, who also serves as chief counsel for the Maryland THA. “They still have many existing agreements (on signal rates). The only negotiations they’re having right now are with (account wagering providers). From what I’ve heard, I don’t believe their focus is on squeezing fellow racetracks.”

Foreman said the meeting with De Francis indicated TrackNet Media Group considers horsemen partners.

“They expect to have horsemen at the table with them as they make important decisions,” he said. “Horsemen have essentially been bystanders up to this point. Whatever they decide to do, they need horsemen at the table. Of course, horsemen have rights under the Interstate Horseracing Act.”

THA representatives at the April 13 meeting also met with National Thoroughbred Racing Association president Alex Waldrop, who took the post in January. Foreman, a member of the NTRA board of directors, said the “consensus of the THA board was the NTRA got it right” with the hiring of Waldrop.

The THA also announced plans to establish a Web site that would be available to members and the public.

When asked whether the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships--MATCH series--discontinued after 2002 would ever return to the racing calendar, Foreman said: “I think there is a universal desire to get MATCH up and running again.” Foreman founded the series, which relied on participation of Mid-Atlantic racetracks and horsemen and had the support of the THA.

Some of the issues that led to suspension of the series--decreases in purse money in some states, as well as uncertainty over racing dates--still exist. Delaware and Pennsylvania racetracks have gaming-fueled purses and have expressed interest in the series, but questions linger in Maryland, New Jersey, and New York.

“Maryland probably will not be running year-round racing (in 2008),” Foreman said. “They are out of money. We’ll have to see what happens in Maryland between now and January (in regard to slot machines). In order (for MATCH) to return, the region needs everybody to do it, and until those stars align, we can’t do it.”

MATCH featured about 30 stakes per year with total purses in excess of $3 million and owner/trainer bonuses worth more than $500,000. Participating racetracks and horsemen’s groups used existing stakes to make up the series, which had various divisions for age and sex.