07/21/2004 12:00AM

Del Mar opener's signal limited

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - A last-minute contract agreement between Del Mar and the 19 tracks of the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative was reached too late Wednesday for some tracks in the group to offer simulcast wagering on Del Mar's opening-day program.

Monmouth Park and The Meadowlands Racetrack, citing problems with program distribution, opted to wait until Thursday to add Del Mar. All the tracks in the cooperative were slated to have Del Mar on the betting menu Thursday.

"We are in the business of purchasing simulcast product," said Martin Lieberman, the executive director of the cooperative. (Lieberman has served as an outside counsel representing Daily Racing Form.) "We feel exasperated when we are unable to do that. We are happy to report we can purchase that product again."

The dispute centered on the cooperative's two newest members, who joined last year: Suffolk Downs and Rockingham Park. They had paid higher rates to Del Mar than those negotiated by the cooperative but sought this year to pay the same rate as other members. The reduction was the key sticking point.

"The final result is satisfactory to all members," said Lieberman. "They will all pay the same rate for the life of the multiyear agreement."

Lieberman declined to provide any contract specifics.

"We have an agreement on contract and pricing terms," said Craig Fravel, executive vice president of Del Mar.

Each cooperative member had the option to offer Del Mar on Wednesday.

"Some have indicated they will offer Wednesday's card," said Lieberman. "Each track will make that decision based on how they think fans will react to issues like limited program information."

The other members of the cooperative are Delaware Park, Dover Downs, and Harrington Raceway in Delaware; Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course, Ocean Downs, and Rosecroft Raceway in Maryland; Atlantic City Race Course and Freehold Raceway in New Jersey; Philadelphia Park, Penn National, Pocono Downs, and The Meadows in Pennsylvania; Colonial Downs in Virginia; and Charles Town Races in West Virginia.

This was not the first time the cooperative lost simulcasts in contract disputes. It lost the signals for four days in the spring of 2003 from all Churchill Downs tracks, with a settlement reached in time for simulcasting of that year's Kentucky Derby. Members also missed the start of Keeneland's fall 2001 meet.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen