05/02/2007 11:00PM

Horsemen ask Churchill to release Derby signal


A group of horsemen's associations on Wednesday night joined together in asking that Churchill Downs make the signal for Saturday's Kentucky Derby available to all account-wagering platforms.

The request was made by the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the Thoroughbred Owners of California, and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. They asked Churchill Downs to make the signal available to Youbet.com and Television Games Network, two large account-wagering operations that have not reached an agreement with Churchill on the rights to the Derby and races at other tracks owned by Churchill Downs.

As of early Thursday afternoon, the parties involved had not responded to the request, according to horsemen's officials.

Joe Santanna, the president of the HBPA, said the horsemen's group had made the request privately to officials involved in the dispute earlier this week, but that the group did not receive any response and decided to take its position public.

"It's our hope that they get together and work this out," Santanna said.

Last week, Youbet said that it would refuse to negotiate with Churchill as long as Churchill's signal-selling partnership, TrackNet Media, required Youbet to sever its relationship with TVG in order to receive the rights to the signals TrackNet controls. TrackNet controls most of the signals for the tracks owned by Churchill and Magna Entertainment, two publicly owned racetrack operators.

Scott Daruty, the chief executive of TrackNet, said that the horsemen presented the request to him last week, but that TrackNet has not had any discussions with TVG or Youbet.com about the Derby since then.

"Absolutely, we've considered it," Daruty said. "But what we want is a solution to the entire problem, where we can exchange content with TVG in a fair and equitable manner. We have not held the Derby or the Preakness hostage in any sense of the word."

David Nathanson, the chief executive of TVG, said in a statement that TVG officials believe that "thus far they have not seen any terms from [TrackNet] indicating a strong desire to reach a mutual beneficial long-term agreement."

Churchill had previously provided its signal to TVG, but the company is letting its current contracts expire as it launches its own account-wagering platform, twinspires.com. That platform was launched on Wednesday. Youbet has a sublicensing agreement with TVG that allows the company to offer betting on TVG's tracks.

The statement also called for all of the Triple Crown races to be "off the negotiating table" for all account-wagering operators, which would require TVG to make the signal of the Belmont Stakes in June available to its competitors, including TrackNet.

Horsemen's groups hold broad veto rights over racetrack signal agreements through their local affiliates based on the federal Interstate Horseracing Act. Officials of the national horsemen's organizations said on Thursday that they had no communication with the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective over the possibility of vetoing signal agreements as a way of forcing negotiations, and officials of the Kentucky group did not return phone calls early on Thursday.