01/08/2005 12:00AM

Deal reached for NYRA and Magna signals


OLDSMAR, Fla. - There will be no interruption of simulcast wagering on races from the New York Racing Association or Magna Entertainment this meet, as there was in 2004.

"We've reached agreement with the New York Racing Association on a simulcast contract and will continue to simulcast races from New York throughout the meeting," said Peter Berube, this track's vice president and general manager. "We also reached agreement to continue to receive the signal from Santa Anita. The New York signal is a popular one here, while folks who get here later in the afternoon and evening like Santa Anita's later first post."

From Jan. 1, 2004, through the conclusion of the Gulfstream Park meet in late April, Tampa Bay Downs was unable to simulcast races from Magna Entertainment tracks and NYRA because of a dispute over fees. The stumbling block was that Gulfstream, a Magna track, was the lone distributor of the NYRA signal in Florida, and Tampa and Gulfstream could not reach an agreement. The Gulfstream Park simulcast signal to Tampa was unaffected during the dispute.

Because a large number of former New Yorkers call the Tampa area home, along with numerous "snowbirds" who venture south every winter, one needs only to pass through the betting areas to realize the impact those fans have on the local wagering picture. And after the last race, several groups of regulars can be seen checking out the action at Santa Anita, also a Magna property.

Despite the signal dispute last year, the Tampa meeting showed a 24.1 percent increase in all-sources handle, as well as gains in ontrack betting and attendance.

Tampa also sought an agreement with Churchill Downs to simulcast races from Fair Grounds this year, but no deal has been reached.

Ex-jockey Sanchez returns as agent

Herson Sanchez was one of the more popular riders to race at Tampa Bay Downs. After eight years away from the business, Sanchez is back on the scene of some of his biggest days as a rider, this time as a jockey agent.

"I was in other businesses after hanging up my tack, and while I did all right, I always missed the track," Sanchez said. "Where I was dragging myself to the office at 7:30 or 8, now I'm out here at 5:30 and just love it - there's nothing like the track in the morning."

Sanchez was at Mountaineer Park when he was impressed by Daniel Centeno's riding. The two hooked up this past fall, and while Centeno has won just two races at the current meeting, Sanchez is confident that the rider's future is bright.

"We knew when we came here it would be tough the first year," Sanchez said. "We were prepared for that. But this kid won over 100 races last season between Mountaineer and Thistledown, he's got a good work ethic, and before it's all over I think we're going to do some good."

Toro looking for turnaround

Another rider who hopes to build momentum this meet is Melvin Toro, who finished eighth in the standings behind Derek Bell at Canterbury Park over the summer. While he has been in the thick of things in a number of races here, he has only one win to show for his efforts.

"We're hanging in there," said Toro's agent, Chuck Deaton. "Melvin is a hard worker, and hard work will pay off in the long run."

* Deaton continued his tradition of dressing in a Santa hat and passing out candy canes to the backstretch workers on Christmas morning. "It's not much, but just having somebody give you a little something when you're far away from home maybe makes the day go better," he said. "I passed out 250 candy canes."