11/19/2003 1:00AM

Churchill signal dispute over

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The Churchill Downs Simulcast Network and the Southern Racing Cooperative reached an agreement late Wednesday over simulcast rates, and as a result the Churchill-controlled signals of Churchill Downs, Hollywood Park, Calder Race Course, and Hoosier Park were to be restored to the cooperative tracks on Thursday.

"Both parties really wanted this over, and that forced us together to find a resolution, and we found one today," said Bobby Geiger, spokesperson for the cooperative.

Karl Schmitt, president of CDSN, said in a release that the resolution reached is a renewal of an original simulcast agreement the network had with some of the tracks in the cooperative. Those tracks, The Downs at Albuquerque, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn, Prairie Meadows, Retama Park, Ruidoso Downs, Sam Houston Race Park, Southland Greyhound, Sunland Park, Sun Ray Park, Tampa Bay Downs and Valley Greyhound Park, had Churchill signals blacked out as of Nov. 13, but they were to be restored Thursday.

Lone Star Park was also part of the cooperative, but left the group on Wednesday and later that afternoon had reached its own agreement with the network, resuming simulcasts starting with the second race from Churchill Downs on Wednesday.

Geiger believed both sides were satisfied with the agreement. "We made it happen over force of will," he said. "The fans were being punished, and it was time to find a compromise."

The dispute centered around a proposed simulcast rate increase for some of the tracks in the cooperative, which work together as a buying and selling arm in simulcast trade.

The dispute between the two groups started Nov. 11, when the cooperative chose not to import the opening-day program from Hollywood. Two days later, CDSN pulled the signals of four of its tracks - Churchill Downs, Hollywood, Calder, and Hoosier Park - from the cooperative tracks.

Talks between the two groups were ongoing daily during the seven days that cooperative tracks did not receive signals from Churchill tracks.

Lone Star was a founding member of the cooperative three and a half years ago, but in 2002 was purchased by Magna Entertainment.

"While we have been supporters of the Southern Racing Cooperative, we feel a conflict of interest could arise from future contract negotiations between the group and our ownership, Magna Entertainment," said Jeff Greco, general manager of Lone Star.