04/30/2008 11:00PM

Undercard signals may be restricted


Negotiations between Churchill Downs and its horsemen over the availability of the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby undercard races on account-wagering sites remained in a stalemate early Thursday afternoon, according to officials for both sides.

The stalemate will likely result in a blackout of the cards on Friday and Saturday, with the exception of the Oaks, the Derby, and the race preceding the Derby, the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic.

The stalemate has been a source of frustration for horseplayers who were planning to bet the Oaks and the Derby undercards over online accounts, an increasingly popular way to bet on horse races. The dispute is also threatening to extend the decline in betting on the Derby card that occurred last year after 16 years of uninterrupted growth.

Betting online or by phone currently accounts for about 20 percent of the national handle. Last year, handle on the Derby fell 0.1 percent and handle on the entire Derby card dipped 4.1 percent. Although Churchill officials cited poor weather, the signal for the Derby card was also blacked out on the two most dominant account-wagering platforms, Youbet.com and Television Games Network.

If the stalemate is not broken by Saturday morning, the only account-wagering operations that will be able to offer wagering on the Derby undercard are those that restrict betting to in-state customers. The list of sites includes those run by New York OTBs, the New York Racing Association, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, Philadelphia Park and Penn National Race Course in Pennsylvania, and operations based in Virginia and Louisiana.

The Derby itself, along with the Turf Classic, is not subject to horsemen's restrictions because of a contract reserving the distribution rights exclusively to Churchill. But Churchill's simulcast-marketing partnership, TrackNet Media, has not struck deals to provide the Derby and Turf Classic signal to any national account-wagering operations other than twinspires.com, which is owned by Churchill, and XpressBet, which is owned by its partner in TrackNet, Magna Entertainment Corp.

Bob Reeves, the president of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group, which represents Kentucky owners and trainers in negotiating for the account-wagering rights, said Thursday afternoon that no serious discussions have taken place between TrackNet and officials of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group for two days. He said the horsemen's group was holding firm to its stance of pressing Churchill to provide horsemen with one-third of the revenue from account-wagering on the Churchill signal.

Scott Daruty, the chief executive of TrackNet, also said that no discussions have recently taken place between the two groups.

The Derby card will include four pick fours. The first will link races 1 through 4; the second will link races 3 through 6; the third will like races 7 through 10, ending with the Derby; and the last will link races 9 through 12.

The pick six will link races 5 through 10, ending with the Derby. Every race in the pick six sequence is a graded stakes race.

Because the Derby is the last leg of a pick four and a pick six, customers of Twinspires.com and XpressBet will be able to place those bets on those two wagers through the account-wagering platform, according to Churchill officials.

Rolling daily doubles and pick threes will be offered on all races, as well as win, place, show, exacta, trifecta, and superfecta wagers. The minimum for the superfecta has been raised from 10 cents to $1 for Oaks and Derby days. In addition, Churchill will offer a new bet, the Super High Five, which requires a bettor to select the first five finishers in order, on several races on the card. The races had not been determined by Thursday.

NBC will televise the Derby during a live broadcast running from 5 p.m. to 6:30. Eastern.