08/05/2004 11:00PM

Race coverage on cable just isn't cutting it

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Last month a media company did something that no group in horse racing has been able to accomplish. Not trade organizations, not the NTRA, not racetrack consortiums, not Churchill Downs Simulcast Network, not Magna - nobody in our own industry got it done. What was it?

Provide full television coverage, from one provider, of nearly all U.S. racetracks for home viewing.

The Dish Network, which already had the Television Games Network on its basic 60-channel package, added Magna's HorseRacing TV to basic. That move gave horseplayers one provider to watch horse races from all the major tracks in America. This forced a quasi-union of services from TVG and HRTV on a single provider, Dish. It may be more like a shotgun wedding, but racing fans aren't complaining. And it does lead to some switching back and forth between channels. But what sports fan doesn't do that already, especially during the NCAA basketball tournament or on Sundays for the NFL?

Here in Las Vegas, we like to think we've been ahead of the curve. We have convenient and comfortable race books all over town that show a full simulcast menu. But to watch races at home, TVG was available on satellite services Dish Network and DirecTV. HRTV was practically nonexistent.

Our main cable provider is Cox, which is very strong in the state of Nevada. A few months back, Cox added TVG to its premium digital lineup. So I upped my cable bill to $49 a month just to get TVG. I also bundled its internet service, so Cox receives $80 a month from me. Ignorance is bliss, because I was happy to pay it.

Now I find out that the basic 60-channel package from Dish Network is only $24 a month and it has TVG and HRTV. And if I wait for their next promotion, they'll probably include free installation and some free months to boot.

Before Nevada horseplayers start pulling out their cabling and switching to Dish, there may be an option out there. Cox, which has been raising local rates like they're tied into gas prices, is among a few other cable giants, like Comcast and Time Warner, that are losing market share to satellite services. That alone may force them to freeze rates for a while.

Cox, Comcast, and Time Warner should be sensitive to customer comments, because the handwriting is on the wall. Satellite television is growing, and growing fast, so the cable companies had better be proactive.

If we horseplayers, in a unified front, begin calling our cable provider and asking for TVG and HRTV, we just might get it. There's enough of us to make a difference. And if we don't get it, you and I can ask the Dish Network salesperson if that pizza-sized satellite dish for the side of our house comes in matching colors.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up radio show.