06/03/2002 11:00PM

Incoming simos beyond your control, Jersey


TUCSON, Ariz. - The Thoroughbred horsemen of New Jersey say they are concerned about the future of live racing. So is everyone else who makes a living in the sport.

The Jersey horsemen, however, have a strange idea of how to solve the problem. They think they should control the flow of simulcasting into their state and have veto power over which signals can be imported.

Unfortunately for them - but fortunately for racing - the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, which governs American simulcasting, makes no provision for such control.

So the Jersey horsemen found an obliging friend, a New Jersey congressman named Frank Pallone, to introduce a bill proposing to amend the Interstate Horseracing Act.

It is a bad bill and a bad idea. And it is not just racetracks that oppose it.

John Roark, the national president of the Horseman's Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents Thoroughbred horsemen in this country, was quick to point out that the omission of veto power over simulcasting for horsemen in a receiving state was intentional.

"We are very concerned," Roark said about the Pallone bill, "that if amended in this particular way, the Interstate Horseracing Act would give offtrack horsemen's groups an unfair trump card over the horsemen whose horses are the actors in the race. We must remember the original proprietary justification of the Interstate Horseracing Act was that the host [sending] track serves, in effect, as the theater, and that the owners and trainers racing at that host track are the actors. In our view, they own the rights to the interstate wagering revenues on their own races."

Roark is right, historically and practically.

The New Jersey horsemen cloaked their bill in the mantle of protecting live racing. Roark and the national HBPA are in complete support of that objective, with good cause, since simulcasting now represents more than 80 percent of American wagering. But the Pallone bill is not a solution for that dilemma.

The Interstate Horseracing Act was not an overnight idea, like the Pallone bill. It was the result of deep thought and 33 months of hard work by the Racing Advisory Committee of the American Horse Council, starting at Saratoga Springs in August 1975 and lasting until May 1978.

When Rep. Pallone talks of "granting horsemen's groups a say in the process," it seems that New Jersey's Thoroughbred horsemen failed to tell him how the Interstate Horseracing Act came into being in the first place. It is unlikely that many of them know. But there are a number of members of the original AHC committee, and others involved in drafting the bill, who still are around and do know - firsthand. They include committee chairman John Bell; Tony Chamblin, Ned Bonnie, and Arnold Kirkpatrick of Kentucky; Mike Shagan and Jack Krumpe of New York; Don Essary of Texas; Nick Jemas of New Jersey; Lynn Stone of Florida; and myself.

Not only were horsemen's groups "granted a say in the process," but HBPA officials at the time - executive director Chamblin, president Jack DeFee of Louisiana, and counsel Bonnie - played major roles in drafting what became the Interstate Horseracing Act.

When the negotiations were completed on May 23, 1978, Kent Hollingsworth, then editor of The Blood-Horse, wrote an article titled "Masterpiece of Negotiation," saying that the Vietnam peace talks in Paris "were nothing compared to the art - the skill, sophistication, stamina necessary to negotiating a compromise between a dozen disparate interests in racing."

Horsemen at receiving tracks were not left out inadvertently. They were left out for precisely the reason that HBPA's Roark stated so lucidly last week: in deference to the horsemen who put on the show where the signals originate.

New Jersey horsemen certainly want live racing to survive, but there is no possible way the ill-conceived bill that Rep. Pallone introduced can assure that, or even aid materially toward that goal. And the Jersey Thoroughbred horsemen know it.

Their other motive in wanting the act amended - control of what simulcasting signals enter the state of New Jersey - is another bad idea, not worthy of support by anyone in racing or government, in or out of the Garden State.