Updated on 09/16/2011 8:54AM

No Santa Anita races for Fox Sports viewers


Beginning with the opening of Santa Anita's winter meet Thursday, Fox Sports West will no longer telecast live races from sunny Southern California. Instead, Fox Sports viewers will get races from dead-of-winter tracks such as Aqueduct in New York, Laurel Park in Maryland, and Turfway in Kentucky.

The blackout of Santa Anita's races on Fox Sports West in favor of racing from the East and Midwest is another component in the struggle between account-wagering companies seeking to capitalize on account betting in California. That struggle has proved frustrating to California horseplayers, who need to open accounts with multiple wagering companies to bet on California races year-round.

The Fox Sports West coverage was launched in late April after Television Games Network, one of the largest account-betting companies in the country, reached a two-year agreement for its cable and satellite signal to be simulcast on the network for two hours each day.

TVG is owned in part by Fox Sports's parent company, News Corp. The company has lost more than $100 million since being launched, but TVG's handle has skyrocketed since account wagering became legal in California earlier this year. The increase is due in part to TVG's simulcast on Fox Sports West, which reaches five million households.

TVG is available over the Dish satellite service and on local cable systems in parts of Los Angeles; Lexington and Louisville in Kentucky; Baltimore; and southeastern Massachusetts. In California, TVG's racetrack partners include Del Mar, Hollywood Park, and Oak Tree, a nonprofit group that runs racing at Santa Anita for a month in early fall. Oak Tree's races were broadcast on Fox Sports this year.

TVG won't broadcast Santa Anita's races, however, because it does not have an agreement to take bets from most of the tracks owned by Magna Entertainment, the racing conglomerate that owns Santa Anita, Golden Gate Fields, Bay Meadows Race Course, and Gulfstream Park in Florida. Magna operates its own account-wagering service, XPressBet, and a subscription-based racing network, Horse Racing TV, but the network's distribution is nowhere near as wide as TVG's.

Negotiations between Magna and TVG to carry each other's signals were broken off early this year. TVG officials said that Magna declined to sign a deal that had been accepted by dozens of other tracks while Magna officials said TVG turned down a deal to swap the two companies' signals.

"Of course, it makes sense to have California Thoroughbred racing on Fox in this market, but [Magna] won't even consider doing business with us under a model that has been successful for all of the other California tracks," said Tony Allevato, TVG's executive producer, on Monday.

Magna officials did not return phone calls.

In the absence of coverage on Fox Sports West, Magna Entertainment has reached an agreement with a local independent television station, KDOC, to broadcast live racing from Santa Anita for five hours every Saturday. The broadcast will also show live races from Golden Gate Fields and Gulfstream Park.

Magna, a publicly traded company, is under pressure to make its account-wagering service succeed, but the odds are daunting. XpressBet dominated the California racing scene in the winter, but its handle fell off sharply after Santa Anita and Gulfstream closed, mostly because the service has few attractive signals other than those two tracks. Recently, company officials blamed losses at XpressBet and Horse Racing TV for the company's flat performance in the third quarter this year, when net loss was $9.7 million.

Even without Santa Anita, TVG still intends to broadcast on Fox Sports West for two hours every day, beginning at noon, with "Trackside from Aqueduct." Average handle for Aqueduct's winter meeting this year was $9.2 million a day compared with $9.4 million for Gulfstream (not including the extended Hialeah-at-Gulfstream meet) and $12.1 million at Santa Anita.