Partners in Triple Crown Productions at Odds

A rift has developed among the partners in Triple Crown Productions, which holds the television rights to the three grade I Visa Triple Crown events: the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, and the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park.

The New York Racing Association has informed Churchill Downs it is prepared to end its television broadcast alliance and negotiate its own deal. A racing executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity said NYRA has become increasingly frustrated because of what it perceives to be a relatively low share of the broadcast revenue despite the high ratings the Belmont Stakes has generated in recent years.

"We're in the process of going our separate ways on Triple Crown Productions," the individual said.

A second racing executive, who also wished to remain anonymous, said the three parties already have decided to act independently in terms of negotiating future television contracts, though those negotiations have not yet occurred.

"I have no comment whatsoever on that," Triple Crown productions executive vice president Ed Seigenfeld said. "I don't comment on rumors."

Said John Asher, vice president of communications for Churchill Downs: "It is company policy that we do not comment on rumors."

Under a five-year deal that runs through 2005, NBC Sports is paying Triple Crown Productions $51.5 million for various rights to the three races. A parallel deal with Visa, which sponsors the $5-million Triple Crown bonus, is worth another $25 million.

In an April 2003 article in The Blood-Horse, it was reported Churchill Downs Inc. owns about 50% of Triple Crown Productions, and NYRA and Magna Entertainment Corp., owner of Pimlico, each own about 25%. An official with CDI later said the three entities share equal ownership.

One racing executive who spoke to The Blood-Horse Sept. 24 said CDI gets 50% of the broadcast revenue, while NYRA and MEC split the rest. "They shouldn't be getting that much more of a percentage," the individual said.

For the past three years, the Belmont Stakes has led the national television ratings. This year, the Belmont earned an 11.3 rating, the Derby a 7.4 rating, and the Preakness a 6.1 rating. In 2003, the Belmont recorded a 9.5 rating, followed by the Derby at 6.4, and the Preakness at 5.7. In 2002, the Belmont settled at 7.6, the Derby at 7.1, and the Preakness at 6.5.

The 2004 Belmont recorded its highest rating since 1981 and was the number one-rated show of the week on network television.

Horses seeking the Triple Crown arguably have fueled Belmont Stakes ratings. In six of the last eight years, a Triple Crown has been on the line in the Belmont. In the last three years, War Emblem, Funny Cide, and Smarty Jones all had a shot but failed.

Instead of having a contract with one network, CDI, MEC, and NYRA would, in absence of a revenue-sharing deal, negotiate separate arrangements with networks. It's possible the three races could be broadcast on different networks.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association, of which the three entities are members, has long sought aggregation of such rights for what it believes is in the best interests of the long-term growth of the sport.

The Blood-Horse staff contributed to this story